Sunday, November 15, 2009

Coaching Lessons: How Do You Perform Best?

Impressively, Peter Drucker's writings possess great clarity of thought and expression. If you, as I, are looking for a theorist who can help us formulate a high concept for coaching, then Drucker is a good place to start. As I mentioned in a previous post, his concept of self-management fits coaching well. Link here.

In that post I discussed Drucker's idea that the first step in the self-management process is to identify what you are good at. It is better and easier to develop the talents and aptitudes you have than to work on areas where you begin with a deficiency or handicap.

As he put it, memorably, it is easier to go from good to great than from incompetent to mediocre. And why would you want to spend you time trying to develop a talent that will, at best, only rise to the level of mediocrity? Link here.

Drucker continues that the second step in a good self-management program involves figuring out how you perform optimally.

Different people have different aptitudes and skills. Similarly, different people function better under different circumstances.
Surely, society values some roles more than others, but it is not a great idea to try to make yourself into a great leader when your talent lies in giving advice.

As for the question of whether leaders are born or made, I offer my opinion that they are born and developed. If you do not have the right temperament or personality, you are not going to be able to perform optimally as a leader. As I believe most people know from observation, children are born with their personalities. You cannot create a child's personality out of nothing and should not try to thwart its development.

Some people work best in circumstances that would easily defeat others.

Drucker's approach is multivalent. He does not suggest that everyone should try to be a leader or a subordinate. He sees that society has many different roles that allow different people to perform at levels that are optimal for them.

Not every aspect of society is organized in this way. Noting that Winston Churchill had a terrible time of it in school, Drucker observes: "Schools everywhere are organized on the assumption that there is only one right way to learn, and that it is the same for everyone. But to be forced to learn the way a school teaches is hell for students who learn differently."

Drucker suggests that some people learn by reading, some by writing, some by listening, and still others by talking things out.

Some people are voracious readers; they absorb enormous amounts of information by reading reports. Warren Buffett is a notoriously avid reader of annual reports.

Others learn by writing things down. In fact, they spend an enormous time taking notes. They fill piles of notebooks with random and not-so-random jottings. They might never go back to look at these notes once they have finished writing, but they will have learned the material nonetheless. Drucker suggests that Beethoven fell into this category.

Some people learn best by listening to other people. They sift through opinions and information that is provided orally and they come to master it completely. Give them a report to read and they will learn less efficiently and effectively.

Finally, some learn best by talking things out, almost in a monologue, with people they use as sounding boards or scribes. As they are talking thoughts clarify themselves and they learn. If you ever wondered why and how it was that Thomas Aquinas spent his time dictating his writings to a series of scribes, perhaps the reason was that he learned and thought best while talking.

Next, ask yourself this question: Do you perform best as part of a team or when working alone? If you have great athletic talent and work well as part of a team, then perhaps football or basketball would be best for you.

If you have great athletic talent but work best on your own, then you should avoid football and basketball and work on your golf or tennis.

Similarly, do you work well in large corporations or small ones? If you perform best in a corporate environment then you might not do your best managing a boutique. If you function well when you are involved in constant team meetings and group interactions, you are not likely to excel as a coach or consultant.

And, do you work best in a highly structured environment where you know exactly what is required of you? Or do you do better when you are working on your own, without institutional constraints?

Do you prefer that your workday contain predictable tasks or that it provide you with a constant stream of challenges and crises? Evidently, if the latter you would probably function well as an emergency room physician. If the former, then perhaps work as an accountant would suit you well.

As I mentioned above, some people are natural leaders; others are natural advisers. James Carville, Karl Rove, and Dick Morris... are natural advisers. They would be inept as leaders.

Some people thrive when they are making decisions and organizing groups. They need not, however, be great at articulating complex ideas. Dwight Eisenhower was a great leader; he gave rather weak press conferences.

By this reasoning we err when we believe that we need our president to be a great thinker or to give great speeches. Leadership is about making decisions and taking responsibility, not offering a course in political philosophy.

While it is clear that an adviser cannot function without someone to advise, Drucker also suggests that leaders often need advisers: "... to force themselves to think; then they can make decisions and act on them with speed, self-confidence, and courage."

Another salient point resembles one I discussed in my other post on Drucker: how do you know the conditions that will allow you to perform at your best? Surely, I am not going to advise you to look deep into your soul to discover whether your heart's desire has destined you to work in a bureaucracy or as an individual coach.

The only way to find out is by trying out different situations.

How many times have we found someone who believes he is allergic to corporate life, being forced to work in a corporate environment, and discovering that he is thriving there? And how many times have we seen corporate executives retire from what they call the rat race in order to write their novel or paint landscapes, only to discover that they cannot tolerate the isolation and solitude of the more contemplative life?

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