Here are some tools I’ve found useful in my coaching practice and in developing myself as both a coach and a manager.
James Flaherty’s Five Questions
James Flaherty’s Five Questions, which the author presents in his book Coaching: Evoking Excellence in Others, serve as useful tools for creating a living, breathing portrait of the client along several different dimensions, from the practical to the philosophical.
- Questions around immediate concerns can help the coach get a sense of the most pressing problems and challenges – personal and professional – clients are facing at the time of the coaching engagement. Such information is useful in helping the coach assess the psychological context within which clients are attempting to address desired behavioral changes.
- Questions around commitments can provide the coach with insight into clients’ priorities, those obligations to which clients feel devoted both personally and professionally. Understanding a client’s commitments is valuable for identifying obstacles to change as well as levers that can be used to accelerate change, depending on how closely the client’s present commitments and desired behavioral changes are aligned.
- Questions around future possibilities ask clients to describe the future they hope to secure for themselves. In understanding a client’s desired future state, the coach as well as the client can make connections between the client’s present patterns of behavior and the future goals he or she hopes to achieve.
- Questions around the client’s personal and cultural history can help both the coach and client better understand how the client’s past has shaped and influences his or her present circumstances and how the client makes sense and meaning of these circumstances.
- Finally, questions and observations around the client’s mood can provide insight into the client’s emotional set point, or predominant emotional state, that colors how the client views the world and his relationship to the world.
The Five Questions provide a template for understanding the context within which a coaching client is operating at the time of the coaching engagement. This model can help both coach and client to understand the world in which the client lives as a dynamic system of interdependent and interrelated values, priorities, commitments, and goals and avoid the temptation to “objectify” the client as a static, one-dimensional stereotype.
Hogan Leadership Forecast Series
The Hogan Leadership Forecast Series is the result of research conducted by Drs. Joyce and Robert Hogan into the question of how certain personality characteristics can reliably predict workforce performance and leadership success. Their research demonstrates that while professional experience and functional expertise are both essential for the exercise of effective leadership, individual personality also plays a critical role. The Leadership Forecast Assessment Series is an assessment instrument useful for understanding a client’s personality, values and goals, and potential career derailers that includes the Hogan Personality Inventory (HPI); the Hogan Motives, Values, and Preferences Inventory (MVPI); and the Hogan Development Survey (HDS).
The entire assessment series can be completed online in about two hours and can provide valuable information about how a client typically behaves when he is at his best (HPI), primary drivers of client behavior (MVPI), and client qualities that emerge in times of stress that disrupt relationships, damage reputations, and derail careers (HDS). As a certified Hogan coach and administrator, I am trained in interpreting data from the Hogan Leadership Forecast Series assessments and understanding how to use these assessments as part of an overall coaching engagement. These assessments are especially useful in those engagements that focus on the development of essential leadership skills and behaviors, as they help both coach and client understand the client’s leadership strengths, developmental opportunities, and the kind of work environments in which the client is likely to excel.
Robert Kegan’s Immunity to Change Map
The Immunity to Change Map, which Robert Kegan introduces in his book Immunity to Change, is an analytical tool useful for uncovering the unconscious assumptions and commitments that prevent an individual from making desired changes in his or her personal or professional life. It is especially useful in the case of individuals who desperately desire to change their behaviors but find themselves unconsciously sabotaging their own efforts to realize these changes. As an analytical tool, it is closely related to Chris Argyris’ Ladder of Inference model (see below) as well as the general theory of mental models. Once completed, the Immunity Map can help coach and client alike articulate the assumptions and conclusions (or commitments) that constitute a client’s mental models, or the schema she uses to interpret and make sense of the world in which she lives.
The Immunity Map is the result of decades of research in adult learning and development conducted by Robert Kegan of Harvard University and his collaborator and Lisa Lahey. The tool can be used by individuals, teams, or entire organizations to identify the beliefs and mindsets that serve to secure a stable sense of identify but which as a result make behavioral change difficult if not impossible to achieve. The Immunity to Change Map is especially useful because it enables individuals and organizations to surface unspoken, often unconscious ways of thinking about the world and make them conscious and available for assessment, evaluation, and modification.
Chris Argyris’ Ladder of Inference
Developed by the late organizational theorist Chris Argyris in his book Overcoming Organizational Defenses (1990) and later promoted by Peter Senge in The Fifth Discipline (1990), the Ladder of Inference provides a useful model of how our long-held, often unconscious assumptions influence how we experience the world, draw conclusions about our observations, and engage in behavior based on these conclusions. It is a valuable way of understanding how as individuals we “jump to conclusions” about the meaning of our experience before we realize we are doing so.
When we experience the world, we select certain facts to attend to based on our past conditioning and consequent beliefs. We then apply assumptions (often without being aware that we are doing so) to these facts and draw conclusions about their meaning based on these assumptions. Over time we develop embedded beliefs based on these conclusions, which constitute our mental models of how we view the world. Ultimately our behavior is based on the the mental models we have created over time. These models determine the facts to which we decide to pay attention, and the entire cycle repeats itself ad infinitum unless some intervention, typically some form of intensive self-reflection, occurs. What makes this process so pernicious is that it occurs almost instantaneously with little, if any, awareness on our part.
The Ladder of Inference is a useful tool for understanding why we behave the way we do as well as the origins of our automatic reactions and emotional responses to certain events we encounter. Once we understand why we behave the way we do, we can begin to plot a course for change and transformation.
Byron Katie’s Four Questions of Inquiry
If Chris Argyris’ Ladder of Inference is a useful model of how unconscious beliefs and assumptions become habits that shape our behavior – often to our disadvantage – Byron Katie’s Four Questions of Inquiry offer a powerful methodology for surfacing these beliefs, testing their validity, and ultimately moving beyond them.
Katie lays out her process of inquiry, which she calls “The Work,” in her 2002 book Loving What Is. She urges readers who suffer from stress, anxiety, or other forms of psychological pain to describe in writing their beliefs about the people or circumstances they believe are causing them pain. We then investigate these beliefs by applying a series of four questions designed to highlight the disconnect between what we believe about the world and the way world really is. Once this discontinuity is revealed, according to Katie, these beliefs lose most if not all of their influence over our lives.
My thanks to Tina Harlan for sharing this book with me. It’s a powerful resource I recommend to coaches and clients alike.
Evolution of Organizational Leadership
The Evolution of Organizational Leadership Model conceives of a client’s growth as a leader within an organization as a series of stages through which the client assumes authority and influence of increasing scope and impact. As the client progresses along this trajectory over the course of her career, both the nature of the work at hand and the skills required to perform the work successfully change.
As a manager of projects, the client’s challenges are largely technical in nature — they consist primarily of solving problems, the solutions to which are generally known and proven. As one’s career progresses to include motivating people and articulating policy, the problems that need to be addressed become increasingly complex and the identification of solutions to these problems more challenging. When one becomes responsible for leading the entire organization in an executive capacity, success depends on mastering a broader, more interdisciplinary set of skills that allow one to leverage all the resources across the organization by instilling a sense of purpose and meaning, both for the organization as a whole and for each individual staff member.
I am indebted to Dipak Jain, former dean of the Kellogg School of Management, for introducing me to an earlier version of this model.