I had a conversation with someone recently that made me realize that I could put a little more emphasis on a segment of coaching. One thing that I work on with people when dealing with blind spots is uncovering and eliminating unconscious bias. Sometimes these particular blind spots run so deep that people don’t even realize what they are even after other people have pointed it out to them.
How many of you are aware when you’ve judged someone? How often do you make decisions based on the way someone looks, or a “gut feeling” that you think that you have? How many times have you said that you were trusting your “instinct” about someone? A lot of this is an unconscious bias that you have making the decision for you. These blind spots, this bias, develops in a lot of ways; for example, by your own personal experiences, your background and the cultures that that you’ve been exposed to, or conversely not been exposed to.
Research has shown that we, as humans, like to categorize people. Unfortunately, doing this can sometimes lead to negative consequences, especially when you are leading a team of people. Uncovering these types of decisions and facing why you’ve made them is important because they can be harmful not only to the person who you have judged but also to yourself. Are you not going for a promotion at work because you think they’ll never put a woman in that position? Do you look in the mirror and think that you’re too short to be strutting around in the C-Suite? That is a bias that is feeding into a limiting belief, holding you back from getting your dream job.
Studies have proven that diverse teams, people of varied backgrounds, of different ethnicities, genders, age groups, sexualities, education levels, etc. do better than homogeneous teams. Is your unconscious bias holding back your team? Is it holding back you? Take The Implicit Association Test and see if it points out any blind spots. Want to unpack them? Let me know.
I was lucky enough to go on a girl’s trip to Mexico a couple of weeks ago. As we were driving, we passed through the city of Why, Arizona. It is tiny, if you blink you miss it, but the novelty of the name stuck with us for the whole trip. Part of the reason is because my friends that were with me know that I always ask why, why, why…. Why has been on my mind.
Early in my career I had a leader who I thought was always asking for Purple Squirrels. They’d give me a task and I thought that I did what they wanted but time after time I gave them the wrong data, analyzing things the wrong way, just fell short in general. My aha moment came when she told me that if I’d included one more piece of information in what I’d given her, she would be able to do what she need to with the data. Super frustrated, I said “well why didn’t you tell me what you needed the information for, I would have included that!”. She looked me right in the eye and said “well why didn’t you ask me what I needed it for?”. I was humbled, schooled and empowered, all at the same time. It was a breakthrough moment for me.
I took that crazy jumble of emotion with me going forward and began to ask why. Why do you need this info? What are you going to do with it? Why do you do it that way? Why aren’t we able to do that faster? She created a monster. I was extremely annoying for a while. But over time, I was able to see beyond my nose and the task that I was given to do. Once I began to see where what I did fit into the larger picture, my quality of work increased, my productivity increased and I was a more engaged employee. I’d learned a bit about the power of why.
I am fortunate enough to know some people who are experts when it comes to process improvement and are Six Sigma gurus. They helped me understand the science behind the question why and how it can help get to root cause, ensuring that your solutions are sound, not band aids. Under their tutelage, I honed my skills and learned how to truly use the power of why.
As a leader, it is important that you create an environment that lets people ask why. Encourage them find out how their piece fits into the puzzle of your organization. Foster creativity and innovation. Don’t let an answer of “because we’ve always done it this way” suffice. Push your teams, inspire them to have their own breakthrough moments. Letting them know the why behind a decision that you’ve made gives them so much more power when they get to the how; how they can to stand behind that decision and make it work.
If you have an inquisitive person on your team, encourage them to learn some Six Sigma tools. You don’t have to go all out, get them a mentor that can teach them a few things, such as 5 Whys, and let them use their skills. As they hone their skills, they will develop and grow. In turn, so will your team and your organization. I promise you will never regret having someone on your team who knows how to use the power of why.
As an HR person, I have leaders tell me things all of the time that they don’t feel comfortable saying to the people who actually need to hear it. For example, a leader told me that someone on their team wasn’t showing up as a strategic thinker. I was floored when I heard that because from the conversations that I’d had with the person they were talking about, I thought that they were very forward thinking, focused on the vision of the organization and ready to contribute to the big picture.
I asked tons of probing questions to get a better idea of what a strategic thinker looked like to that leader, and low and behold, their idea of what strategic thinking looked like and my idea of what strategic thinking looked like were very different. To them strategic thinkers were more focused on big, innovative ideas, breaking the mold and trying new things.
The person in question was in an extremely risk averse place in their life. They had personally been through several health issues, just bought a new home and was feeling a lot of financial pressure. It did not surprise me one iota that this person wasn’t bringing bold new ideas to the table. I asked the leader what they knew about their employee and if they’d ever had a conversation with them about being a strategic thinker. As suspected, they didn’t know a whole lot about them personally. They also had never even told them that they felt that they weren’t a strategic thinker, let alone what that meant to them or how it was impacting their perception of them. Not having that conversation was limiting that employees career and it took way too much convincing to get that leader to have an open and honest conversation with their employee. When they did, it was revolutionary. The employee came back to me and said that they felt like they’d been travelling in the dark and after the conversation they finally found like they were walking around in daylight.
I’m urging leaders to stop making your employees travel in the dark. Here are a few tips:
·Have open and honest conversations with your employees
·Get the know your employees personally and learn their motivations
·Have a true, vested interest in seeing your employees grow
·Make sure that you clearly spell out your expectations
Today someone asked me to talk about my favorite part of being a Human Resources and Coaching Professional. While those are two very different things, the answer is the same for both. I love doing Leadership Development. Helping Leaders grow is the most rewarding part of what I do.
When I am able to provide critical insight or feedback and get someone to become more introspective and make positive changes, that puts me in my HR Happy Place. When I put together an action plan for a Leader based on a DiSC Work of Leaders assessment or a 360 survey, I get jazzed! When Leaders are engaged, transparent, innovative and act with integrity, knowing that I helped drive that behavior, I smile almost (almost) as big as my dog does when I say the word B-A-C-O-N. That’s her happy place.
One of the biggest challenges that I faced when I began coaching leaders was to be able to sit in silence and let them work things through for themselves. I am a very direct person and for most of my career I have been the go to person for fast and easy solutions. Coaching isn’t about fast and it sure isn’t easy! When you work with leaders who are used to either having solutions handed to them or are used to having all the answers and have found themselves profoundly “stuck”, you must have patience, faith and a willingness to sit in absolute silence. When I first began coaching I had none of these things! The urge to jump in and offer solutions was almost overwhelming. Then I had a breakthrough of my own. What if I was wrong? I was so full of answers but how did I know that any of them were the right answers? How liberating coaching became to me in that moment! I wasn’t expected to have the answers and it was actually the wrong thing to do to even try to give anyone an answer. The problem is theirs to solve, I was just there to dust off the path and help open doors. For many leaders transitioning from a Consulting relationship to a Coaching relationship can be difficult and frustrating. I remember my first experience with receiving coaching as a business leader. My coach didn’t do a great job of explaining her role as a coach and I found her incessant questioning to be annoying. There were long, horrible instances of silence and I remember the feelings of confusion and irritation that the silence brought me. What was I supposed to be doing during this silence? What was she getting at with the vague questions? It honesty felt like torture. Leadership Coaching clients can be tremendously different than Life Coaching clients. In Life Coaching, most clients don’t expect you to have all the answers. Think about it, who is expecting you to walk into a room with the answer to the BIG question, “what is the meaning of life?”. But many business leaders are looking for just that, the answers to their burning business questions about achieving their business goals, growing and developing as leaders and developing their teams. As a coach, my role is not to walk in and hand out answers. Before my breakthrough I was confused. What could I, as a Coach rather than a Consultant, provide to leaders? What is the actual “coaching expertise”? For me personally, the number one thing that I can provide is empathy. I have been in their spot. I have been on the receiving end of the awkward silence. The second thing that I can offer is a better coaching experience than the one that I had. Setting expectations up front and establishing the ground rules of the coaching relationship, the roles and responsibilities of a client and a coach, goes a long way towards having a more positive experience. When people know what is expected of them, they are able to perform much better. I also learned that with business leaders, you need to identify what specifically they are trying to get out of coaching immediately. What are the business expectations that they want help with? What development are they trying to obtain? Where can their shift occur? When you get them to hone in on what they really want, what they are trying to achieve from coaching, your coaching skillset will kick in and you will know what to do from there. Coaching can provide measurable business impact in so many ways. Getting leaders to understand and overcome their limiting beliefs alone can help change someone’s perspective in such a way that they are able to overcome the obstacles standing in the way of them achieving their business goals. Every coach has excellent tools that can be used with goal setting, time management and such. They are there as a guide and can help you but YOU are the key to getting the information out of the leader. When the answers come from them, it is much more powerful than being given an answer. Those incessant questions that I found so annoying are thought provoking when asked the right way and at the right time. They can help develop critical thinking skills, emotional intelligence and awareness. The awkward silence is not awkward at all when you know that your well-timed question is causing the leader that you are coaching to develop and grow, right there during that conversation. Coaching leaders isn’t fast, and it isn’t easy but you can make it profoundly impactful, especially if you use your silence wisely.