Blog moved for 2008

December 23, 2007

I have used the break to consolidate my different blogs in one new location, where you will find my thoughts on coaching under the category “Coaching” in the left hand side navigation bar. Enjoy and thanks for coming along for the ride!

Ich habe die Pause genutzt, um meine verschiedenen Blogs an einem  new location zu konsolidieren, wo Sie meine Gedanken zum Thema Coaching unter der Kategorie “Coaching” im Navigationsfeld auf der linken Seite finden können. Danke fürs Lesen und Ihre Beiträge!


A number of recent client sessions brought a particular “gestalt” to the foreground that I have been aware of for a long time: the issue of being different – not in a pathological way – simply people who are

  • much more intelligent than the rest
  • much more sensitive than the rest
  • much more ethical than the rest

The temptation (supported by pressure from the business environment) is for these people to come up with intricate, complicated, energy-sucking strategies, often honed and developed over half a lifetime, in order to hide, who they are, and instead adapt.

Well, my choice of attributes suggests what I think of these strategies (which I do respect – as anything that humans come up with to cope with situations, which are hard to cope with): they suck your energy – initially, and time and time again, you will become conscious of it, but on the whole, you automatically hide your intelligence, sensitivity, or ethical feelings and thoughts.

Even an initiative as “emotional intelligence” (Goleman), which swept global business since the mid-1990s and has now become almost institutionalized (a particularly devious form of resistance!), did not change a lot. Nor did academic studies like those by Chris Argyris of Harvard since the 1980s (on different theories of behavior and value sets that managers follow – espoused and in-use).

My recommendations are three-fold, and rather simple (I like it that way, and my clients do, too):

  • Know yourself (including, and in particular, the ways in which you are different – from the culture around you)
  • Be as direct about your being different as you feel comfortable with in a given situation – do not be afraid to experiment a little with your being different. Example: surprising people in a meeting with a creative, intelligent, out-of-the-box idea, or a sensitive, or an ethical remark. Don’t go into battle, go shopping instead.
  • Monitor the responses you get – don’t hide from them – including people’s body language, what they say, and what they don’t say. Alter your response in return if needed. Including leaving the firm whose culture forces you to hide your inner self: and don’t be scared – there is most likely some other place out there where you are welcome as you are!

Some mental traps with this course of action are: you’d rather not know that you’re different; and: when it’s clear that you are, you don’t like what you get. You don’t like what it would mean about you (e.g. “I am never myself”. “I waste my most precious energy on hiding myself”. “This culture is SO not me – I need to leave, but I am afraid.”)

No time to sharpen the axe?

December 8, 2007

In the 1990’s I spent a large portion of my time helping large companies manage their “knowledge” – no matter how elusive this quantity (or quality) may be. Since then, the topic has not fallen into disarray, but instead it has been gobbled up and partially internalised. Of course, as you know if you work in a company yourself, you are aware of the issues around (1) knowing what you know, (2) knowing what others know, and (3) knowing what the company knows – e.g. through improved sharing techniques (not necessarily technologies). Here is a nice recent article on the question “is knowledge management dead?”

How does this relate to coaching? Well, for one thing, if you don’t know (as a person) what you know, you will underperform. Your ability to learn is impeded. You probably also do not know too much about your process, either. Your ability to network (learning from others, learning about opportunities, learning social skills) is impeded, too. It follows that most executives probably know fairly well what they know – including knowledge of their process. The latter is important when they mentor and teach others, because executives mostly teach others the “how” (process), and not the “what” (content).

While the issue is less with individuals (hence, in one-on-one coaching, knowledge management techniques rarely come up), it is enormous when we look at teams and organisations. Again, however, successful teams tend to manage their internal (owned by the members) and external (owned by others) rather well. A company can be successful without establishing knowledge management as a discipline, but its success will hardly be sustainable without it. Most successful companies developed their KM out of the instinct of smaller units, departments or teams – as they grew, the corresponding processes were forgotten (b/c the process knowledge was not articulated, shared and/or kept), and the company’s success dwindled.

Now, if you are an executive in a company, here are three simple practices to get started in this area:

  • check whether there are explicit KM processes (sharing, consolidating, using knowledge and information) and people responsible for them
  • check your own ability to recognise knowledge and information-related processes, e.g. by estimating how much you’ve learnt over the past, say, 6 months (can you articulate that?), and how much of what you learnt you passed on to others in your firm (would they agree?)
  • look at your most admired competitor in the market and try to evaluate their knowledge management practices – can you relate them to your competitor’s success and possibly copy or evolve them?

If you have difficulty in doing this, do not despair 😉 Most likely, you run into the issue that is predominant in companies, too: a lack of incentive – in a company, that would be called an “incentive system”. Here is a really good article from Knowledge@Wharton on Economics for Humans by economist Tyler Cowen.

Of course, none but a few of these processes are established as part of the management canon – despite our efforts in the 1990’s – therefore, many an executive axe has gone dull and needs sharpening. Which takes time.

Saw the movie Beowulf yesterday – blew me away. The moviemakes added a number of twists to the story … looking through the old saga, this did not disturb me much, I thought it was interesting.

I had the new translation of this 1000-years-old poem by Seamus Heaney … published by faber & faber, which I listen to in the car – it’s an absolute feat, enthralling, spell-binding piece of literature. In 1999, when Heaney received a Whitbread prize for his work, FORBES published an article on Leadership lessons from Beowulf – an good read, too.

Especially when you consider what happened re: M&A since 1999, when the article was published: in the last paragraph, the author becries the fate of many software companies: “being devoured by Microsoft”, transferring the fierceness of conflict of the so-called “dark ages” into the presence. The power of epics, however, or good, hero- and action-based stories, continues to be of great importance. It does not always have to be an epic, though – sometimes a good, motivating story suffices. As longs as it is grounded in, well, truth. But that is a method lesson.

The leadership lesson from Beowulf is: park your vanity, and do not submit to your desire to leave a great heritage, a great story behind. There is nothing inherently wrong with wanting those who come after you to sing your song, and put you on a pedestal – this was the way of the ancient Germanic warriors – but be aware that this kind of everlasting life of a leader comes with a price. In the case of Beowulf (in the movie), the price is high – he cannot find peace, and he cannot have a (human) son. This is a, I find, successful deconstruction of the hero motif.

Leaders are not heroes, though those who lead may choose to see them that way. They ought to be “one of us”, rather, better in some ways, worse in others, altogether real, flawed too. The best leaders model both handling failures and victories. They show how the most important part of falling down is getting up again. And when they must stay or step down, they do it with dignity.

Though I am supposed to work on my lectures this morning, an article from Der Spiegel Online distracted and touched me – I though I’d share it with you since it is about life values – a topic so important to many of my coachees.

The story is brief: Randy Pausch, a well-known professor of computer science at Carnegie-Mellon in Pittsburgh, was diagnosed a year ago with pancreatic cancer & is dying. He recently gave his “farewell lecture” on campus, which was recorded and can be viewed on the web here. It is 1,5 hrs long but well worth watching.

Being a busy person like me, you cannot just throw 90 minutes away to engage with your life’s meaning … You can watch a summary of the soppiest moments  here on an ABC show plus a brief interview with Pausch.

In der Unterhaltung mit einem Freund wurde mir gestern (wieder einmal) klar, dass Coaching auch eine Art von “schamanischer” Tätigkeit ist. Um den Patienten zu heilen, begibt der Schamane sich in eine Trance (die er auch beim Patienten induziert). Eine Interpretation dieser Trance ist ein Brückenschlag zwischen der Welt der Lebenden und der Welt der Geister – der Schamane bewegt sich also zwischen zwei Seinszuständen hin und her.

Etwas Ähnliches beobachtet man auch bei Systemaufstellungen, wenn Teilnehmer für Personen stehen, die sie zutreffend darstellen ohne sie überhaupt zu kennen – man spricht von “teilhabendem Wissen”. Der Systemaufsteller Albrecht Mahr aus Würzburg sagt z.B. über das, was dort passiert:

“Also die Wahrnehmungsform, die man beobachtet, wenn man mit diesem Phänomen wie teilhabendes Wissen, wissender Körper oder so arbeitet, ist ein Oszillieren zwischen zwei Seinszuständen (…) Der eine ist Identität oder Einssein mit, und das andere ist eine Trennung in Subjekt und Objekt, und das Objekt beobachtet. Also ich bin identifiziert mit einem, irgendeiner Person, also keine Unterscheidung zwischen dir und mir, und wenn ich das aber bin, kann ich darüber keine Aussagen machen. Die Aussage, wenn ich gefragt werde, wie geht es dir, macht sofort eine kleine Trennung in diese Wahrnehmung und einen Zeugen, der das wahrnimmt.

Und das ist ein Vorgang, was die Mystiker einspitzige Aufmerksamkeit nennen, die kann man wahrnehmen. Es wird, wenn man das erlebt, wie eins erlebt, aber es ist in Wirklichkeit ein ganz feines Oszillieren zweier Seinszustände.”


Etwas Ähnliches kenne ich auch vom Coaching: das gleichzeitige Sein in zwei “Welten” – ich bin zugleich beim Klienten und bei mir. Das erklärt auch, warum das Coaching, wenn es effektiv ist, so erschöpft – über die nötige durchgängige Aufmerksamkeit und Konzentration hinaus.

Ein wichtiger Unterschied: die Kunst des Schamanen lernt dieser von einem anderen Schamanen, den er begleitet – wie der Heidelberger Psychiater und Ethnologe Gerhard Heller mir einmal erklärte, tut er das zum Beispiel, indem er dem alten Schamanen auf dem Rücken sitzt – d.h. er guckt nicht nur zu, sondern er versucht, in dessen Arbeit einzutauchen.

Wichtig scheint mir auch: der Schamane kann sich in der Geisterwelt der bösen Geister entledigen und sich dort mit guten Geistern “aufladen”, was ihm hilft (oder vielleicht sogar erst befähigt), im Diesseits seine Arbeit zu tun. Was aber wäre das Äquivalent dieser Reise für den Coach?

A couple of months ago,  a colleague from v.R. connected me to a journalist who called a few days later and interviewed me on my coaching practice specifically with M.D.s in clinic environments (where I do a lot of work). Since I also teach on an MBA for health care management professionals at the IMB, I had something to say. The article, which also includes statements from other coaches, has now been published (in German).

 What did not find its way into the article is the fact that I also coach clinical and commercial management at the same time – sometimes even in the same hospital. This is most interesting because a lot of tension in hospitals comes from the fact that the perspectives of doctors and owners are seen to be contradictory or at least at cross-purposes: the doctors (and other clinic personnel) work to preserve life, while the owners (and managers) look at the hospital as a (hopefully) profit-generating enterprise.

When you coach doctors and managers, however, things aren’t this simple: it turns out that both groups really stand on the same side: in today’s society, patients cannot heal, and the hospital cannot flourish and grow, if either the managerial or the medical aspect of running a hospital are neglected.  This is a complicated, and often painful, learning process for both groups. In the course of this process, managers must learn to respect and appreciate medical culture, and doctors must learn to respect and appreciate managerial decision-making.

In this learning process, a trained and conscientious executive coach can be an enormously useful asset and companion. But no more: as in all group processes, it will only succeed if all participants agree on the terms of interaction and grow to respect each other’s viewpoints and “habitus” (a reference to the theory of the late French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, who worked with the terms “habitus” and “field” to great effect).