By Anne Scoular, Managing Director, Meyler Campbell
An absolute gem of an Economist special issue this week (more below) takes me back to an ongoing question that has vexed us in Meyler Campbell Faculty Meetings for years. On the one hand, if we believe in “pure” non-directive coaching, then there should be, strictly, no requirement for the coach to know anything about the client’s context, or background, or industry etc. This is one of the earliest battles for many people joining the Business Coach Programme – (temporarily) giving up the expertise base that has done them proud for decades. Whether they are a senior lawyer, HRD, business school Professor, international strategy consultant, private equity whizz, etc etc, their whole business success to date often seems to them to have been based on downloading information.
Indeed, for some people it has gone further than that and become a part of their very ego identity – so even harder to let go. So for the first half of the Programme, we push them hard on non-directive – NOT because we think it’s the best or only way to coach, but usually because the great people who make it onto our Programme, have usually most, ah, shall we say, upside potential, in that area! They can already tell, have been doing so for decades, but we want them to explore the furthest reaches of ask, and listen. And often they are astonished how powerfully it works – often they try it very dubiously, but then come to the next Tutorial practically blinking in amazement at how powerful it was when the client tapped into their own deep wells of insight/practical ideas/ingenuity etc.
But on the other hand it wouldn’t be the Business Coach Programme if we left them there – it would be a criminal waste of talent and a lifetime of experience if we turned people out at the end of the Programme who just sat with eyes wide open and their head cocked on one side, murmuring sympathetically, “and how do you feel about that?…!” To be a credible business coach business you need to be business-savvy. So about halfway through the Programme – once they’ve got non-directive in their bones, and can flick it on and off at will – we take the chains back off, and let the “tell” piece back in – but used judiciously, when that’s what seems to be best for the client right now, rather than as the default. It’s fun seeing all the differences emerge as each person blends what they brought into the Programme, with what they’ve learned on it. It’s the basis of their USP, whether they’re wanting the deepened coaching capability as part of their leadership toolkit, or to have coaching as part of a portfolio career. And it’s what the people they’re working with, are often initially attracted by – we go and see the boss because we think he/she has answers we respect and can use. Or the freelance coach is hired for their industry sector experience. In both cases, the real value might have nothing to do with that content, but their ability to dig the real answers out of us.
But then again it might. A coach who is familiar with the client’s sector, can challenge better – they know the jargon and the territory. So lawyers like to be coached by lawyers, and CEOs by people who’ve been there and felt what it’s like. (Or not – sometimes people seek difference! ) But this week’s Economist (April 21st) made me think about how we all need to keep up too with changes in the meta-context. Its cover story is on what they have termed “the third industrial revolution”. The big story in the 14-page Special Report (highly recommended) is that as manufacturing goes digital, it will change out of all recognition, and the business of making things will return to rich countries. So this affects not just our direct manufacturing clients but everyone around them – their financiers, their lawyers, their business coaches. It’s happening already: tools to human body parts are being built by 3D printers where the cost of individual customisation is just the cost of some computer keystrokes, not retooling an entire factory. The new means of manufacture enables unimaginable new products – as Rolls Royce’s Director of Engineering and Technology, Colin Smith, says, “you can’t make some of this modern stuff using old manual tools… the days of huge factories full of lots of people are not there any more”. That doesn’t mean mass unemployment: “factory floors today often seem deserted, whereas the office blocks nearby are full of designers, IT specialists, accountants, logistics experts, marketing staff, customer-relations managers, cooks and cleaners, all of whom contribute in some way to the factory.” This of course has knock-on implications for people we are coaching in the education sector as well. ((And charities. And for those in the property sector, private equity…) The Economist Special Report is stuffed with reference to game-changers – mass-individualisation of drugs; third-generation nanotechnology; new materials, new nickel-salt batteries, batteries made of viruses, (yup), hydrophilic glass. New – old – locations: Derby for instance – near where the first industrial revolution started, then nowhere while China was sexy, and now unheralded but at the heart of the third.
I think this is one of those rare “must-read” articles. I’m still quoting to people that amazing special issue of Legal Business in November 2006, about the psychological contract between associates and law firms being broken and the leverage model based on their extreme hard work hence endangered with it. They were right, and years ahead of anyone else. This week’s Economist I think is another wake-up call to adjust all our mental maps.