Are you listening with the intent to respond?

What kind of listener are you?

Have you ever been having a debate with a colleague, perhaps even a heated debate around a boardroom table and you could just tell they weren’t listening to you? They were too busy deciding how they were going to respond when you stopped talking.

I’ve been there. No, no, I mean I’ve been that guy who isn’t listening.

Sure, I’ve been the frustrated debater on the other side too, but there surely have been times when I was desperate for a colleague to stop talking so I could refute their point and make my own point. I knew I was right and was impatient.

On more than one of those occasions, though, I happened to hear something they said that stopped me. Something that made me think, “Uh oh, I think they might be right” or “My point may be irrelevant.” So all of a sudden I had to start listening to what they were saying. I had to start considering their point of view, along with my own.

I’ve also done this when staff have come to me to describe a problem or challenge and I’ve been eager to jump in and answer them…to solve the problem for them.

Stephen R. Covey, the late management guru and the guy who launched the “7 Habits” series of books and seminars, once famously said: “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

In the last few years, I’ve been working on listening more and replying less. Of course as an Executive Coach I now spend a lot of my time listening, encouraging clients to think-out-loud while I provide an ear to listen and a sounding board for them to bounce ideas.

Have you ever been in that situation when you were listening with the intent to reply? What about when your staff are telling you about a problem. Have you wanted to jump in and respond before they even finished telling you what was wrong?

What might happen if you did the opposite? What if you listened with every bit of intention and presence you could muster. You focused solely on what the other person is saying. What if you took it a little step further and purposely didn’t respond to them right away once they stopped talking. What if you let their question or comment hang in the air . . . lingering a little while in silence.

Susan Scott, creator of a marvelous program called “Fierce Conversations” refers to this approach in a conversation as “letting the silence do the heavy lifting.” We often do this in coaching to allow the client time to process what they have just said, to listen to themselves, in fact. Often it is during this silent heavy lifting that the client answers their own questions, considers their own ideas and solves their own challenges.

Are you letting silence do the heavy lifting and listening with the intent to understand, or do you tend to listen with the intent to reply?

If you do more of the latter, I would encourage you to try it another way. See if it works for you. Maybe it won’t, we all have different styles, but based on what I’ve seen in my own life and now with clients, I’d encourage you to give it a go.

If you do, I would LOVE to hear how things went for you. Please share a few comments below.

When is “good enough,” Good Enough?

I’ve always been a bit of a perfectionist. I beat myself up when I don’t do things as well as I would like, and frankly there have been times where I’ve treated others around me that same way when things weren’t perfect.

I’ve done a lot of work on that, and occasionally my own executive coach and I continue to work on it!

What prompted me to start writing about it today is a quote from a textbook I once studied while becoming an executive coach. James Flaherty wrote in Coaching: Evoking Excellence in Others:

The mood of organizations is, for the most part, shaped by the willingness of superiors to be satisfied.

That struck me as quite profound and incredibly accurate. What do you think? Have you known organizations with positive, upbeat, “can-do” moods? Perhaps you’re working in one now, or you volunteer somewhere like that.

Maybe you’re even leading that kind of organization. If you’ve witnessed it, I would encourage you to think about the leader — were they willing to be satisfied? Seems like an odd question but when you think about it, I suspect it has some logic to it.

Some of us have probably worked, at one time or another, in the other kind of organization — one where the mood was awkward, angry, or unhappy, challenging in-a-bad-way. Was the leader willing to be satisfied?

Now I’m not suggesting that sometimes we don’t need to strive for perfection.

When I’m traveling, for example, I like to think the pilot flying my plane, or the people at Boeing who built it, are aiming for perfection. But, how often is perfection necessary? When can we allow ourselves to be satisfied?

In his book, Flaherty also proposed “in our society and current culture, dissatisfaction is sometimes seen as a sign of sophistication or an unwillingness to compromise high standards.”

I’m sure that conjures up images for most of us — maybe someone you know, maybe you from time to time?

I’ve certainly had moments like that — unwilling to “compromise my standards” while pushing myself and others beyond our ability.

So I guess what I am asking is this…

When is good enough, good enough? How do you communicate that to your team? And what will it take for your colleagues to believe you? for your team to believe you? for you to believe you?

What if Your Team Members Were Volunteers?

In our last Coach’s Questions blog we talked about “Changing Other People” and that changing how we react to other people sometimes changes how they interact with us.

It’s the classic, if not ironic, reality that to change others we must change ourselves.

This time I’m proposing we take it a bit further — changing how we relate to our entire team – could it strengthen the whole team? Could it improve our corporate culture?

Imagine for a moment that your team (your staff, or your peers) are all unpaid volunteers.

They are doing what they do because they truly believe in the organization and its mission.

The hours they put in, whether longer than most, or shorter than some, are an unpaid labour of devotion. They aren’t here for the money.

Maybe they’re here to learn from you, or they’re here to build up some experience in your industry so that they can be really good at their role. And they chose to gain that experience, and contribute what they can contribute, to you and your organization.

Do you think that would that change how you interact with your team?

I’ve tried it, (and some of our clients have tried it), and here’s what I found: I had a little more patience with people who were trying to do their best but maybe weren’t yet meeting my perfectionist tendencies.

I had a bit more interest in sharing my own experience. I was less possessive of information and knowledge, and more willing to share it with those who wanted to learn.

I was a bit more engaged in learning what makes them tick. 

To emphasize what is perhaps obvious — they hadn’t changed, but I had consciously changed my mindset and it made work more enjoyable for me. I ended each day feeling that I had contributed more. I felt the workplace had become even more positive and engaging.

Regular readers of The Coach’s Questions probably won’t be surprised to hear that changes occurred in reverse, as well. Staff who had frustrated me before seemed to become stronger contributors, colleagues and I began to see eye-to-eye on problems that had challenged us previously.

As usual, it wasn’t a panacea. There were still challenges, there were still days I forgot to engage everyone as a loyal volunteer and there were days where my most diligent efforts were lost on others.

But overall, it moved me in a direction I was happy about, and it moved our organization the same way.

Coach’s Questions

What might change, for you and your team, if you tried this approach? Are there any significant risks?  I would leave you with this — are the potential gains greater than the risks? and is it worth trying? If you do, let me know how it works for you.

If you’re willing to share — please leave a comment or two below.

As I looked back on my own experience I realized that many of the traits I associated with volunteers were already a part of our team. I just needed to remind myself of that fact, and to bring that knowledge to work with me each day.

Taking a few moments to think about it, and then a few moments throughout the day to ensure I was implementing it strengthened me, and my team.

This has been a small example of how coaching helps leaders see things from a new angle and increase their own success.

One-on-one coaching and team coaching is focused on YOU.

Today’s topic may not address your obstacles or challenges, but working directly with a coach will allow you to work on what you want to work on, to make strides where you want to succeed.

If you are interested in how an Executive Coach and provocative questions can help you think bigger, see things differently and find new routes to even greater success, give us a call – toll free (855) 818-0600 x 101.

Changing Other People

Occasionally clients will tell me that some of the people in their lives frustrate them from time to time. They don’t like the way one of their staff does “this” or the way their boss handles “that” or the way a colleague “let’s this happen.”

Often these clients will ask me “how do I get them to change?”

The answer is a bit ironic.

First, it’s really hard, if not impossible to “get someone to change.”

Trying to change other people often results in frustration, anger, lines drawn in the sand and even bullying; and a lot more grief for both you and them.

The irony is that changing ourselves often results in changing other people.

Now before you start thinking “I’m not the one who needs to change!” – hear me out.

The one consistency when someone’s behaviour frustrates you, angers you, demotivates you, embarrasses you or diminishes you is… YOU. Their behaviour may be the cause, but how you respond is what is affecting YOU.

Our coaching clients often discover that they can change themselves – that is, they can change how they react to others. By first becoming aware of how we are reacting; and consciously adjusting that reaction, we often find the frustration/anger/resentment begin to disappear.

The amazing and ironic result – our clients often report back not only that they are feeling better and less burdened by others’ behaviours BUT the other person’s behaviours toward them have begun to change!

Now you might be thinking “Patrick, you told us we can’t change other people, now you say we can!” Well in fact, both are true. We changed ourselves and because of our new approach the other person has (consciously…or not) changed how they relate with us.

Coach’s Questions

Think for a moment about whether there is someone in your life you would like to change. Now think about how they make you feel. How would you rather feel? What can you do, yourself, to feel that way? What’s stopping you?

Try it out, let me know how it works for you. If you’re willing to share — please leave a comment below.

How to Handle Decision Making for Small Teams

Majority Rules? or Qualified Consensus?

In our last issue of The Coach’s Questions we talked about Decision Making.

How to help our teams develop strong options when making decisions.

Today I thought I’d talk a bit about decision making for small teams — whether that’s a management team you lead, a project team where you are a member, or even a volunteer committee you serve on.

What style of decision making do you like?

Do you prefer that the majority rule?

Do you prefer that the leader of the team listen to opinions and then make the decision on their own (often a form of majority rule)?

Do you expect consensus at all meetings?

In our “Accelerating Success” program for leaders who are starting in a new role we facilitate discussion on how decisions are going to be made by the leader and their new team.

Some very interesting research by Randall Peterson of the London Business School shows us that majority decision making, particularly in small groups of less than 10 people, can actually be detrimental because it leaves the minority unhappy and disaffected.

Peterson points out “they have nothing invested in success and often have something invested in failure.” Of course, we all know that full consensus decision making can be slow and may lead to a watered-down decision that no one loves.

At Padraig, we like Peterson’s model of “Qualified Consensus” which means finding a solution that is preferred for some and that everyone can live with, even if it isn’t the preferred solution for all.

This way everyone can remain committed to the decision and help with its success.

In working with our clients we challenge them not only to implement qualified consensus when appropriate, but also to take it a bit deeper with “a coach approach.”

If you read this blog regularly, you’ll know that a “coach approach” means asking insightful questions to get unexpected and previously unconsidered answers.

Specifically, we encourage our clients to be thought provokers by using insightful questions when working toward qualified consensus. If you’re not achieving consensus, ask questions like “what is it about X solution, Bob, that troubles you?

If we were to lean toward X solution, how would you modify it to make it suitable to you?” or you may ask questions about the group’s assumptions — “Carol, you mentioned option C will be too expensive. What are your assumptions about the costs? How would those costs limit our other work?”

In other words, we’re trying to drill down, get a deeper understanding of the concerns and disagreement out in the open so that everyone can respond and everyone can contemplate what is raised.

As the group shares more knowledge, assumptions, previously unspoken expectations they will often build a consensus around one direction — and will often gain enormous new understanding of each other, and each others’ roles, in the process.

Coach’s Questions

Think for a moment about the last team meeting you attended where decisions were made. Did everyone leave the room committed to the implementation? If your gut instinct says “no” what could you do next time so that you’ll be able to say yes?

How Do You Make Your Best Decisions?

The higher you climb up the corporate ladder, the more you will be receiving advice from other people — in order for you to make the tough decisions.

The challenge, often, is to make the decision based on the best information possible.

Some decisions come after significant preparatory work while some are spur of the moment.

One of our favourite techniques when coaching teams to think bigger, and that you can use with your team, is to ask the team to write a memo to you early in the process titled “Reasons Why You Would Say No to This Approach.”

Tell the team you will read the memo, only once they have come to you with their final recommendations.

In essence the team ends up having a conversation with themselves (and you) in the future, to challenge their own advice.

Executive coaches will often use a similar, though simpler technique with individual clients to spark some quick new thinking. “Imagine yourself a month (or a week, or a year) from now. Picture where you’ll be sitting, what you’ll be doing, who you’ll be talking to, what you’ll be saying to them.”

As we take a few moments and help them craft this imaginary future, our clients often begin to see where they want to be, and what they might need to do differently to get there.

Another decision making challenge we often witness is seeing things as “either-or.” Either we choose Option A, or we choose Option B. We rarely allow ourselves to consider blending the best of Option A with the best of Option B.

A great way to step outside that binary thinking is a technique we use with our coaching clients, and you could use with your team – ask your team to “tell me about your second-best choice, tell me why it is good.”

A simple, direct “coach approach” question like that will often lead to inspiring conversations about how we could use the best of that second-best option to make the best option even better.

Coach’s Question

How will you challenge yourself, and your team, to think broader and to consider all the best information when making decisions?

Is Compromise a bad thing?

Sometimes successful leaders just know they’re right.

We know our goals are noble, we know how we want to get there, and we know we can be successful.

And sometimes someone with whom we are working seems determined to thwart us.

Sam Rayburn, the legendary Speaker of the US House of Representatives famously stood by the mantra “If you want to get along, go along.”

He meant you have to give a little, to get something in return.

In other words, you have to compromise.

I’ll tell you, there have been times in my career where I felt that compromise was a bad thing — an abandonment of principles.

It all comes back to that nobility of cause – compromising on that would be unthinkable. Wouldn’t it?

Can you recall a time when you’ve felt that way?

Imagine it now from a different angle — what if compromise meant putting the organization first, compromise meant doing what you need to do to attain the nobel goal, compromise meant succeeding AND building a better relationship.

I was once on the leadership team of a large project that was fraught with challenges and the team was made up of some hard-nosed, combative leaders and intellectuals. Yes, me, and others too!

We all believed we were going to save the cause and come through for the win. We had a hard time compromising.

Our individual need to succeed sometimes prevented each of us from seeing what others saw, from understanding what worried them, from examining things from their point of view.

It seems often in the modern workplace colleagues talk at each other, rather than with each other. We explain our point of view, rather than seeking to hear others.

Are there times where this happens in your organization?

Through my experiences of coaching some amazing leaders, and being coached myself, I have discovered other ways. Consider trying an approach with colleagues that demonstrates a genuine interest in understanding their concerns.  An effective way of doing this is by asking…

  • Tell me about _________.
  • Why do you feel that way?
  • Help me understand the issue more clearly…
  • What concerns you?
  • How could we do this better?

Some of my clients have reported things like “I didn’t realize her problem was with something else entirely, we were able to meet both our needs and still get things done” and “the more I asked him questions, the more the tension disappeared.

I could actually see him become more relaxed, less combative and more willing to work with me.”

How to Tackle the Peter Principle

Have you ever heard of the Peter principle?

It’s a theory commonly, if not derogatorily, popularized in the 70’s that says people get promoted to their level of incompetence, at which point they stagnate; presumably feeling miserable, and making those around them feel the same.

Not a very cheery picture.

A closely related notion is the concept of an expert in their field being promoted to management.

You can probably think of someone in your field or even your organization who was a superb engineer / nurse / policy analyst / teacher / doctor / lawyer / journalist / etc. who got “promoted to management”…and then the Peter Principle seemed to kick-in.

This excellent practitioner was now a lousy boss.

Perhaps they were a tyrant, or maybe they were indecisive, they might be trying to please everyone or maybe they go their own way regardless of advice from their team.

I’ll bet someone you know is coming to mind right now.

We probably think “they didn’t have what it takes to be management.” But what does that mean? and more importantly, can it be fixed?

As we rise through our chosen career we need more and more leadership skills. These “soft skills” are anything but soft — they determine the success of our leaders which determines the success of the organization.

Soft skills = hard core bottom line.

These skills are called “Emotional Intelligence” or “EI.”

EI measures our ability to achieve success through working with others. EI measures a series of abilities and helps us see where we could be more successful in life and work by adjusting our approach.

The fascinating key to EI, and the most difficult concept for many of us “Type-A — harder, faster, stronger is always better types,” is to understand that EI is about balance. In measuring our EI and looking at where we want to improve we can see that “too much of a good thing” can be as bad as “not enough.”

For example, I’ve always believed one sign of a good leader is decisiveness. I prided myself on being able to make the tough decisions. “How could I ever be too decisive?” I thought, as I started learning about my own EI.

That’s when Executive Coaching helped me to see that as I became “too decisive” others began to withdraw.

My team saw me as intimidating, my colleagues saw me making decisions without engaging them, my clients didn’t feel heard.

There is no question, my ability to make decisions in tough situations was a huge benefit to the organization and a quality of a good leader — but allowing that strength to begin to outweigh my interest in hearing from others, showing interest in their input and having empathy for their point-of-view, was beginning to harm my ability to lead and thus my organization’s ability to succeed.

Why am I telling you this?

Well because there are great leaders among you who know they are struggling with this balance and maybe haven’t been able to name it.

More importantly, I’m telling you because EI can be learned and improved.

We start by taking a assessment of your EI now — how you see yourself — it’s remarkable how accurate the picture turns out.

If you’re open to it, we also ask people around you — your boss, your staff, your colleagues, and maybe even a couple friends or family, to take the same assessment of you. This is called a 360˙ assessment.

We have a great tool at Padraig to do this online, completely confidentially. Using the tool, we help you see where your EI is today and then most importantly we help you improve the areas you want to improve — to bring balance where together we think it would be most beneficial.

If you want to make changes we can help you do it through one-on-one coaching. The entire process is completely confidential.

While this works for bad leaders who want to improve, the really exciting news is that it works incredibly well for good leaders wanting to be GREAT leaders — learning to build on strengths while balancing a wider range of EI skills.

In fact, it is often good leaders who struggle the most with the “Peter Principle” — they are promoted because they are good, but they are given little support because they are good.

So, do you have to accept a career plateau, or is there just more to learn?

If strengthening your EI and, in the process, boosting your career prospects appeals to you, or you think it might appeal to someone you know, you can reach us at: or at (204)-818-0600.


Advice for Your Younger Self

Is it ever too late for your own advice?

I’ve got an interesting question for you today; but first I need you to do a bit of imagining.

Try to remember, for a moment, what you were like when you were first starting your climb up the leadership ladder.

Can you picture the younger you? What were your career expectations? What were your fears?

Close your eyes for just a moment and try to be that person again for a moment.

So how was that?

Were you able to remember your younger self?

Did some of those expectations come back to you?

Did you feel some of that fear you used to feel?

So the coach’s question of the day:

If you could go back in time and give your younger self some career advice, what would it be?

Go ahead, close your eyes again and imagine what you would say to yourself.

I practice what I preach, and I’ve done this exercise myself:

  • I would remind myself to imagine that everyone around me is wanting to contribute their best – even on days where it doesn’t seem that way.
  • I would encourage myself to look more for jobs with people I admire, and less for jobs with impressive responsibilities.
  • I would worry less about ‘getting ahead’ by other people’s measures and more about contributing something to the world that I’ll really be proud of.

So what would you tell your younger self?

Now that you have some idea of what sage advice you would give, have you implemented it in your career?

If not, what’s holding you back?

And if you have fully taken your own advice, congratulations and bravo!

But, I’m not letting you off the hook just yet.

Last time we talked about using a coach approach in your workplace.

Taking a coach approach with those around you will build an even more impressive team.

How can you take a coach approach, and ask some key questions, to help a younger or more junior person in your office figure out what their own advice would be to themselves?

If you’re so inclined, and want to offer your thoughts for others to see, please provide a comment or two at the bottom of the page.

Asking Questions – The Coach Approach

In our last blog we talked about using “Why?” to engage others, to learn more and to explore ideas.

We take that a step further today with asking more questions — using a “coach approach” to leadership.

Good questions often lead to amazing answers — answers that can astound you and the person you asked, and can lead to leaps in success — yours, theirs and the organization’s.

The problem is, a lot of us ask terrible questions. We talk too much and listen too little.

We’re uncomfortable with a pause in conversation, we accept bad answers or worse, no answer. We’re embarrassed to ask the tough questions.

Will we look stupid?

Will they?

Bringing a coach approach is easier than it may sound, and leads to enormous gains (just ask anyone who has an executive coach helping them to succeed).

Here’s some of the key tips:

Ask open questions — in other words, questions that require more than a “yes” or “no” response. This leads to dialogue without an accusatory tone and builds a comfortable rapport. To watch this technique in action, watch an experienced journalist on a panel news discussion or watch a good talk show host interview a guest – pick your favourite, then watch the technique. (Find some links to good interviewers at the bottom of this note).

Ask questions one at a time — when we get into an interesting stream of thought, our questions pile up. But, asking more than one at once can confuse the listener, and can lead them down our path of thinking, rather than theirs.

Be curious — don’t fish for an answer. Bad questions fish for the answer you want, really good questions are based on curiosity. I find it helps to start the question in your own mind with “I’m curious about….” — that helps you come from a point of curiosity.

So when an employee is explaining how a mistake happened we might be tempted to ask “why didn’t you do it ‘this or that’ way?”

A better question might be “I see where you decided to go this way — what prompted you to choose that?”

You may learn something about your company processes that misled that employee.

You may find a gap in information sharing that left them poorly informed when making a decision. And, interestingly, you may find the option you would have chosen (‘this or that’) might not have been the best choice either.

In other words, you might learn something, the employee might learn something and the whole organization may benefit

Be comfortable with silence — being asked an insightful question often requires time to articulate an answer. Compassionate silence is ok, it leads to insight. If your question was based on curiosity, the silence will be compassionate. If the question was fishing, the silence will be accusatory

Interject with another question when necessary — sometimes you’ll face the opposite of silence — the other person will begin to ramble. Try interrupting with a thoughtful, curious question. Most people don’t mind interruptions that allow them to continue talking and help them focus on the issue.

Repeat back what you’ve heard — it shows the other person that you are engaged and listening, and it confirms you are both on the same page. This is when you may use a “yes” or “no” question to make sure you’re understanding. “So are you saying that the product you are selling will provide us with faster data on a user friendly system?”

Experienced executive coaches use insightful questions to help their clients achieve great things. Bringing a “coach approach” of asking questions to your organization can help do the same thing.