One of the finest moments in the life of a parent, and one of the most decisive moments in the life of a child is when he is better at something than his father or mother. For fathers is often a sport, and when it comes to football that moment is near for me. Sometimes we bring that moment closer by letting our kids win a game, but they don’t really believe. It does make them happy for a moment, but for their confidence it does not do much.
In companies it is often the other way around: the managers are usually afraid that their staff, or others in the company, will become better at something than they are. Sometimes they already are. They keep their team on a short leash and take a position of seniority by instructing their staff which method to use, and thereby create a dependency, because they are the experts. This serves no other purpose than boosting the ego and amplifying the senior position of the expert manager to confirm the power-relation. These people emphasize their own interest in an organization by claiming successes that should be attributed to others.
Leaders who hire people who are better than they are quite rare. Perhaps out of fear of being irrelevant.
This is a pity of course, because the organization will be weaker rather than stronger, and the full potential of the organization is not utilized. Moreover it is quite frustrating and demotivating when someone hijacks your successes to secure his own position. It will lead to conflicts. And: “Internal conflict is like an autoimmune disease: the technical cause of death may be pneumonia, but the real cause remains and hidden from plain view.” Negative circle …
We have a tendency to instruct. People working with me might recognize that. We think we know how things should be done; we give the order and request an update on the results a week later. In an environment with a lot of educated content experts this is not surprising: since our schooldays this is how we acquired knowledge: the teacher instructed us, we did our homework, and then she tested whether we had done well.
It may work, but this may not be the most motivating method.
There is also much talk about the “Master-Apprentice” principle. The Master passes his knowledge and experience on to the Apprentice, who goes to work right away, is continuously instructed and corrected and sometimes gets assignments to figure something out for himself. I would call this mentoring.
Mentoring comes from Greek mythology, where Odysseus, when he left for Troy, entrusted his home and the education of his son Telemachus to his friend Mentor, with the command: “Teach him everything you know.”
Still a lot like the schooldays.
For those who have no insecurities about their own position and relevance, and who dare to look at the potential of people rather than just their current performance, there is a third way: coaching.
If we create a coaching culture and use a management style that focuses a bit more on coaching instead of directly diving into the facts and methods, we could cooperate in such a way that our coworkers become aware of the possibilities for working smarter, and for removing obstacles to success, without handing over the responsibility for their work and their own accomplishments. Then everyone can claim his or her own success.
Success builds confidence, confident people to take personal responsibility, and so on. Positive circle!
Let’s help each other so, instead of trying to outsmart one another.
Not that this is exactly easy. John Whitmore, of whom more later, said: “It maybe harder to give up instructing than it is to learn to coach”.
My own first experience with coaching was not entirely voluntary. I will explain why. With one of my best friends I have a deal to learn something new together every year. We do this mainly because we’re both busy and otherwise we might spend too little time with each other, but also because new things are interesting. It was not easy to agree on what is interesting enough to learn, though. We looked at twenty weeks of furniture making, at ten days cooking course at Le Gordon Blue in Paris, at a curriculum at Harvard, and at some other things, but consensus was not reached. Therefore, the deal was adjusted: one year he decides, the next year I will. My choice for example was to follow a curriculum of Art History at The Hermitage. Ten weeks, one evening per week. For me a nice and safe option, with a classical education, and a history as a gallery owner in Amsterdam. Maybe I wanted to start my learning experience as an expert, and not feel inadequate or look like a schoolboy. When his turn came up last year he got back at me and opted for a course in Professional Coaching” I guess because he knew that I would otherwise never do that. I’ve already written about this before, and I am very glad we did it. Incidentally, as my revenge, next year we will follow a training course in Skydiving. This was my choice, because a long time ago he was selected to train as an F16 fighter pilot. He had to parachute jump, too. For some reason, after two jumps, he did not dare to jump out of a plane anymore. Dream gone, and replaced by a career in e-commerce, which turned out rather well. But still, this fear has always bothered him, and now he has to get over it.
Sometimes we need a bit of external help and pressure to make you us aware of what we do not know or what we can do but are not doing. In the end, it remains our own responsibility what we do with it.