Our professional group had a wonderful “bingo” game last month, that really helped us all meet each other.  Here’s how to set it up:

1. Get each person to write about three phrases that might characterize them. At least one should be obscure, and one very generic. For example, I might list the following for myself:

* Used the computer language ‘spitball’ in graduate school

* Asks lots of questions, and advertises that fact

* Once ran ‘computer assertiveness training’ workshops

2. Put together boards with a grid of 4 x 6 = 16 such phrases. 3. Hand these out.

3. Participants have to talk to each other, finding names to put in each box on their bingo sheet.

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Executive Scavenger Hunt

January 5, 2011

A member of the Organization Development Network asked, “I am facilitating a program for executives on the topic ofTransformational Leadership’.   What questions do you think should be asked to really get the heads spinning?”

In trying to respond to this query, I asked myself what might get executives to look beyond the surface view of their organizations.  Too often we see what we want, and not other things that don’t fit our paradigms.  What games might get them to look further — based on what they already know?  And then I had it — a scavenger hunt!

Divide the executives up into teams of two or three, and ask each team to identify where in the organization they might find:

  • Ecstasy
  • Greed
  • Delight
  • Fear
  • Contentment
  • Pride
  • Exasperation
  • Integrity
  • Loyalty
  • Eenergy
  • Team spirit
  • Anger
  • Powerlessness
  • Ingenuity
  • Community

(or your own list, in this spirit)

Normally, executives don’t talk about these things. But ask them where these things might be found, and a new degree of honesty and courage may arise. That would be my hope.

Need I point out that most of these scavenger items are about individual feelings, that can lead to healthy or to destructive behavior.  Too often, I believe that managers think of their organization as a whole, and not of the individuals who make it up, and whose personal experience feeds right into an organizational culture.

Transformational leadership involves blending the best that indivuals can offer into an organized, coherent, creative, and profitable endeavor.  It means knowing all the stakeholders (and those who should be stakeholders, but, for whatever reason, are not), having a strong vision, creating a climate of trust, integrity, and creativity, and being able to model the values that should guide the whole organization.

One of my coaching clients wants to be more active facilitating change in her organization, but is frustrated by the apparent lack of interest, or perhaps it’s hidden resistance, on the part of the managers who work under her.  Efforts to brainstorm needed change, or in other ways to create an agenda for the future, have not been successful. She was evidently worn down, perhaps really depressed, by this difficult and unrewarding process.

What might make a difference?

She had one very helpful insight: Part of what’s wearing her down is the negative attitude of so many around her, and she’d be better off spending more time with those staff people who are most agile, resourceful, and interested in real change.  Such attitudes and temperaments are indeed contagious, and I’ll be anxious to see what comes of this conscious effort to pick up the most constructive staff energy.

I also had an insight that might be fruitful. Listing possible changes brings up all sorts of resistance.  Why not spend more time  as a management group listing things about the organization that should be preserved — things that are really good or right?  This might give more staff permission to join the discussion in a non-threatening way.  We expect that the process of enumerating aspects to be preserved will actually highlight some things that need to be changed, but that would be the discovery and not the stated goal.

I tread very carefully in making any suggestions.  My role is not supposed to be that of a consultant, offering solutions, detailed strategies, or lots of content expertise.  Indeed, I’ve only a vague sense of this organization’s mission and program.  I’m there to help the director find insight and clarity herself, occasionally offering hints or suggestions, but primarily listening to her reflections and observations and helping her hear her own insights in the most constructive way.

That’s what coaching (which I call “clarifying”) is about.  Remember, you can have a free half hour session, in person or on the phone, to help you decide if this could add value to your life, or your organization.

People generally don’t come to me for “coaching” (I prefer to call it clarifying) because their lives are working well, because their creativity is flowing, or because their organizations are functioning at maximum potential.  They come  because of perceived gaps, deficits, problems, and challenges.

Typically we’ll start work with the client filling out “Wheel of Life” forms, such as the one shown at the left.  This one focused on personal issues such as health and family’ others are more about business or work, creativity and production, organizational health.

My clients probably assume that I’ll zoom right into those quadrants with the lowest score or ranking.  If “health” or “personal growth” is the area of least success, isn’t that the place to start?

“No!”, I insist.  Instead we start with the best ranking areas, reviewing what efforts, what paradigms, what personal initiatives led to that success.  By experiencing, and reviewing, how we succeed in some areas, we can best plan our success in others.

This chart focuses more on management skills and tasks, such as planning, team building, maintaining accountability.  Most managers experience challenges with some of these areas, while enjoying success with others.

Coaching (or clarifying) is not a substitute for skills training, but it can be critical in bringing out those skills when needed.  Sometimes what’s needed is not a whole new skill set,  but just a metaphor, a paradigm, or an idea.

One client of mine was challenged bringing out the aliveness in one of the managers who reports to her.  My asking, “How did I just get that strong response from you?” was all the hint she needed.  We each model behaviors for those around us.  The  questions I was asking her were part of our coaching — they were also tools she could use with her staff.

This model is not complex, and is can be completely transparent.  Most coaches have no secret agenda, or magic method.  By asking cogent questions, offering honest support, and allowing our clients space to think, to respond, to take charge, and to grow, we get to see incredible results.

When our daughter was in high school, the school organized an evening program for parents on “resiliency theory”.  The lead speaker pointed out — as all the parents present already knew too well — that our children were at risk getting hooked on alcohol or on illegal drugs, that they may be in a crash with a drunk teenage driver, that our daughters  could get pregnant.  Indeed, there were perils at every moment!

All this is true, but not helpful, the speaker explained.  What was more helpful was the fact that our kids had been navigating these dangerous waters for some time, and had mostly been making good decisions.  We needed to identify the strengths that led to those decisions — such qualities as character, judgement, integrity, and courage — and find ways to highlight and support those strengths.  We needed to empower our children, reminding them of the positive qualities that they have to draw upon — rather than focus primarily on the risks that they face.  The risks were real and important, but they were not a key to safety and positive action.

What he was talking about, we learned, is “resiliency theory”.  There’s an excellent summary of these ideas at the WestEd Health Kids website:

At its foundation, a resilience based approach to youth development is based upon the principle that all people have the ability to overcome adversity and to succeed despite it. Resilience is a strengths based model meaning its focus is on providing the supports and opportunities which promote life success, rather than trying only to eliminate the factors that promote failure.

Research has consistently shown that the presence of these developmental supports and opportunities provide a better indicator of whether youth will grow up to become successful well-adjusted adults than the presence or absence of risk-factors (i.e. poverty, drug-use, etc.)

I’ve found this a helpful approach with people of all ages.  Recently I took on a new ‘coaching” client, a manager who came with a list of goals reflecting difficulty in social skills, a sense that he was managing short term operations but not visioning or achieving long term goals, and a concern that he was in some significant way a disappointment to his staff.  Indeed, when I had him complete an inventory of strength and weaknesses, and of the parts of his work and personal life that were working well or that were lacking in significant ways, I could see the same judgements and concerns reflecting in his answers.

We could have wallowed in those negative perceptions.  It might have been cathartic, and perhaps satisfying, but I doubt that it would have been empowering.  Instead, I suggested that we start by reviewing all the areas where he had given himself the highest ratings — to see what innate strengths, and what positive actions had made those parts of his work and personal life function so well.  That was the beginning of a healthy coaching relationship that has seen him energize his staff, spend more time envisioning and working for needed changes in his organization, and feel better about himself and his contribution at work.  Our focus is on what we can do, rather than on what might have eluded him.  He’s in control of the coaching sessions, and I believe he’s more in control of his life.