Four Quadrant Coaching:
A Conversation with Myles Downey
by Debby Hallett
I first came across Myles Downey while I was in coach training, and someone recommended his book, Effective Coaching, Lessons from the Coach’s Coach, as one of the best they had read.
Myles often refers to a coachee as a “player,” as in “you are the player in your game of life”. This reflects his roots in Tim Gallwey’s Inner Game, where the job of the coach is to essentially create the conditions under which the player can be in the best possible state for learning. I thought “Player” was the best label I’d seen. As I was nearing the end of the book, I was thinking, “This is the closest thing to an integral approach to coaching that I’ve seen – he uses the inner workings of someone to increase awareness of the external actions, all within the context of the situation or organization.” I turned the page and saw “The Four Quadrants.” I jumped out of my chair, did one of those tennis-player-type fist pumps, and had to settle back down to see what he said about Ken Wilber.
There are two big themes in this book that I want to bring together here in order to provide a lens through which you might view an organisation. The first of these themes is the idea of Inner and Outer, and the second is the notion of the Individual and the Organisation.
I Googled Myles Downey, and found a news item about his London School of Coaching being bought by JMJ Associates, a US company. Curious about that, I looked for JMJ Associates, and found that they are also a company doing organisational work based on Wilber’s Four Quadrants. I contacted their Director of Global Development, Rick Strycker, who, it turned out, was an original member of the Integral Institute. I arranged to speak with him, and that’s how I learned about how JMJ Associates and the School of Coaching were joining their efforts.
At that point I asked for and received an introduction to Myles Downey and asked him if we could do an interview for this journal. Curiously, he told me he didn’t actually think of himself as “Integral.” But I’m keenly interested in the practical applications of the theories (and not so much the debate of the theories themselves, these days), and this was perfect.
So here’s my conversation with Myles Downey, originally of Dublin, recently of London, and now of the world–an Integral practitioner and one of the leading coaches in the world, who does his work through the framework of the Four Quadrants.
Debby: I thought that we could start with defining coaching from your perspective. How do you define coaching, especially in the context of leadership and the work place, where you do most of your work?
Myles: It’s notoriously difficult to define coaching because there are so many different approaches and different models. And then there are people who say they do something – follow a particular approach–but they actually don’t do it in practice. And then add into that, that coaching occurs in so many different ways. So, most people see the executive coaching, and sports coaching, and those are what are mostly known.
One problem we face is that the world of coaching has been has been subject to a kind of creeping, although well-intended, takeover by people in psychological professions, be they therapists or counselors or psychologists. And that’s a dangerous thing. So, for me, coaching is about the set of skills that are about enabling another to perform to their best, deliver business results, to learn and develop, and finally to enjoy themselves in doing that. It’s our experience that if the enjoyment isn’t there, then the performance isn’t there and then the learning begins to erode. So, those three: performance, learning, and enjoyment, all need to be present.
There’s a new set of words that I’m working with at the moment, which are in danger of sounding incredibly trite. But what coaching is really about, is enabling genius. And what I mean by genius is not some romanticized notion that everybody’s wonderful, all that kind of slightly overblown stuff. The Latin root for genius is genitum, which means to beget, or to produce. So, enabling genius has two elements to it for me: Genius refers to the huge potential that any human being embodies; and it also refers to the fact that, actually you need to produce stuff as well. So genius is only genius when there’s actually something delivered.
So, let’s put that in the context of a leader or manager in an organization. The coaching element is one part of how they get the best out of those who report into them or those they influence. And it’s related very closely to leadership and to management. In other words, we would say that a person who has responsibility for the performance of others needs to lead, needs to manage, and needs to coach. And to put it simply, the leadership piece in the line manager’s role is about why somebody is at work and engages in work. From an individual’s perspective, it’s about motivation. From an organizational perspective, it’s about the context, in other words, the vision and strategy of that company. So, leadership should touch into both organizational context and personal motivation and align them. The management piece is about what somebody does. It kind of falls out of the leadership piece and translates into the individual’s role, the goals, the standards, the expectations. And, the management piece is also about holding people to account to those goals, to that role, to the expectations. The final leg of the stool, the coaching piece, is about how somebody does their work. Our approach to coaching is person-centered, or what’s previously been called “non-directive,” because if I don’t own “how I do my work” completely, then I won’t learn, I won’t be motivated, I won’t bear the responsibilities. So, the coaching element is about causing the other person, the subordinate if you like, to do their own thinking.
Is this making sense?
Debby: Yes, definitely. You’ve touched on how coaching works in the line management context. And, you used the metaphor of three legs of a stool.
Myles: Yes. If you look at coaching in the context of the line manager’s role, whether that person is either the chief executive or a supervisor it doesn’t matter, we would say there are three elements. There’s leadership, which is about why somebody does something, management, which is about what they do. And coaching, which is about how they do it.
And, what’s interesting about those three things, if I’m about to engage in a task and I know the why, what and how of it, I’ve pretty much created the conditions in which I can perform to my best.
Debby: Yes, I see.
Myles: Now, if you take any of those three away, I will perform less well.
Debby: You’ve come a long way to answering the next thing that I wanted to get into: how you see the role of coaching contributing to leadership development?
Myles: Are we talking about coaching here that’s externally provided? Or are we talking about the coaching that one person in organization might provide for another?
Debby: Are they different?
Debby: OK, how are they different? I would picture them to be essentially the same.
Myles: The coaching that I do, as a manager in my company, is more likely to be either strategy related or project or task related. There may be some amount of concern about the learning and development of the other, but the main coaching will be with a focus on business outcomes.
It doesn’t have to be this way, but my experience is that the areas one gets into as a leader or senior manager coaching, tend to be…how shall I put this…at less of a depth. So I’m less likely to inquire in-depth about your purpose, or to seek some understanding of your psychological make-up; it’s much more likely to be business related. Compare this to an executive coach, who will start with the business relationship, but will be more qualified toget into different areas; motivation, attitude for instance, and in more depth.
Debby: Right, right. I understand.
Myles: It’s not always necessarily so. But, there’s a difference in depth, not least because an executive coach will be more qualified to inquire into greater depth.
Debby: Right. So, it’s a kind of a layman summary of that: the internal coaching process tends to focus more on the strategy and the tasks or projects that are business related, more on the outcomes and the deliverables. However, an external executive coach, through their expertise and their training can focus more on the individual, and their development and growth, their internal values and motivation. The leader or the manager in the organization probably wouldn’t do that.
Myles: Yes. And I’m fearful of drawing too firm a line. In the right context and with the right people with the right relationship, you can have deep and meaningful conversations. So I wouldn’t exclude it. But what I’m saying is in our experience, the executive coach will go deeper than a leader or a senior manager in the business would.
Debby: I see.
Myles: Because they are more qualified, and because that’s what it’s about. In other words, not everybody says to themselves, “I go to my coach because learning and development or some behavioral or attitudinal change might be important to me.” Instead, “I have a conversation with my leader in order that I deliver within the context of the organization. And I get paid.”
Debby: I see. And does your company provide both of those services? Both training internal coaches and also being coaches?
Myles: We do a number of things. We train people to be coaches. We develop coaching skills in leadership populations in service of strategic goals. In other words, we might help people learn coaching skills to increase performance in an organization, or to increase employee engagement, or to be effective during a time of change. And, yes, we provide executive coaching, where we do the coaching.
Debby: That’s interesting. I hadn’t really thought about the difference between internal and external coaching skills, but that makes lots of sense.
Myles: Yes. I think the fundamental thing is that it’s a different contract.
Debby: Yes, and certainly different motivation and different desired outcome from the person who’s doing the coaching.
Myles, you said recently that you had created a new strapline for The School of Coaching that had to do with excellence in coaching and business results. What was that?
Myles: Excellence in coaching in service of business results. There have been a number of studies over the last couple of years that show that coaching is a very fragmented offering in a very fragmented marketplace, with no real clarity about what it is, and externally provided executive coaching mostly tends to be about leadership development. You know, having people be better people.
Myles: And it’s mostly bought by somebody in the HR department. So it’s infrequently related to performance, to that person actually achieving a business result. For me, one, that brings into question the appropriateness of the intervention. But, two, it’s just a tragic waste of a wonderful way of helping people really, really perform to their very highest. So if you look at all of those reports and studies, one of the things that stands out is there is no leadership in the world of coaching, globally. There are a number of worthy organizations and some of them are doing good stuff. The International Coach Federation, for instance, or, and one that I know better, The European Mentoring and Coaching Council.
Myles: There’s another organization called APECS, the Association of Professional Executive Coaches and Supervisors. So there are some people out there trying to provide some leadership but they’ve got a fundamental flaw. In order to make a statement, and in order to have some weight behind that statement, you have to be representing people. And to do that, you have to have an inclusive organization. And the problem is that excellence and inclusivity aren’t necessarily good bedfellows. [laughter]
Most of the people who make up those organizations have a predisposition towards the psychological. They want to mess about in other people’s heads and it’s very dangerous.
So, our strapline is kind of a precursor to our attempt to provide some leadership in the world of coaching. To say, this is what coaching is. This is “excellence” in terms of the model. It’s not a psycho-therapeutic intervention. It’s a set of skills that are about enabling the other person to do the thinking, to do the creating, to do the imagining, to do the intuiting, to make the decisions. Now, people will say they do that, but mostly what I find is it’s not true. What they’re really doing is they’re leading the other person by the nose. So they’re asking questions to an outcome that they, the coach, have already decided.
Debby: Yes. I’ve seen that in practice.
Myles: And it’s terrifying.
Myles: And I’m not just saying that out of prejudice or positioning. There has been a trend, in Europe at least, to put external executive coaches through an assessment process and the results have been universally disappointing in that recognized coaches have not got through because they can’t do that fundamental thing called enabling the other person to think.
Debby: Yeah, I’m surprised actually.
Myles: Yes well I was. Excellence in coaching means having that as the foundation: enabling the other person to do the thinking.
So, Excellence in coaching and service of business results states that actually coaching is about generating the result in business. When people who don’t know about coaching at all, ask me what I do, they often raise an eyebrow. One of the things I’ll tell them is that in my career I’ve launched two banks, and it’s true. I’ve worked with two different teams on two different occasions, the result of which has been the launching of bank, one of which was the first internet bank in the UK, called Egg. Put the two parts of the strapline together and you get, as I said earlier, enabling genius.
So for me, that was what I signed up to do. [chuckle] I didn’t sign up to make these people better or anything else. That was an outcome. They learned to work in teams and all of that stuff. They got a better sense of themselves as leaders, but in service all the business result.
And that, for me, is where the integral notion fits so well. If you hold that map in your head (Four quadrants) you begin to realize that a lot of coaching simply focuses on the top left-hand quadrant (the interior of the individual.)
Our coaching model focuses on the right-hand side of the page (the external quadrants) because we’re trying to create something in the world–you can go out and you can look at the foundations of a bank and confirm that it exists.
And we’re trying to make sure that if we’re working with an individual, the results they create match the bottom half of the page as well (the group or collective quadrants.) Otherwise, it’s a result that is inappropriate to the organization.
Debby: That’s right. When I was talking to Rick Strycker (Global Director for Development at JMJ Associates, the parent company of The School of Coaching) awhile back, he said that one of the most interesting things he discovered in rolling out the coaching skills into his client organizations, was that they’re very used to paying attention to the right-hand side of things, the measurable and demonstrable outcomes and deliverables, and that when they get stuck, they’re often quite astonished to learn that they’ve been ignoring the left-hand side, the interior quadrants.
What motivates people, their values and beliefs and how that affects their commitment or their energy, or if they’re doing the right thing at the right time? Is that something that you’ve discovered as well or has your experience been different from that?
Myles: I think this is the problem that the world of business faces. I spoke at a conference last week, on organizational resilience. I followed on from another speaker, a senior person at Harvard, who spoke endlessly and tediously about “the evidence shows.” And what I didn’t understand was that the entire audience was lapping this nonsense up. Later on, I suggested to the group that, actually, while resilience may sound like a good idea, it might well be that the need to create more resilient organizations suggests that we aren’t doing much to remove the stresses that generate the need for resilience in the first place. And it’s merely an excuse to keep on demanding more of individuals.
I didn’t go as far as to say that that might be unethical, but it was implicit in every move that I made. It was really interesting to me that I had a difficult time with that audience, because what they wanted was to not have to think; they didn’t want to have to take responsibility, they wanted to go back to their boss and say, “I’ve attended this program on resilience and our resilience strategy should now be this.”
It’s all right-hand side of the page: if it can’t be written down the sheet of paper, if it can’t be measured, if it can’t be in some way seen and manipulated, then I don’t want to know about it. And to point them to the other side of the page, which was about ethical matters, which was about responsibility, which was about the needs of individuals, the possibility of actually there being other ways of working that were more values-driven. In other words, notions like abundance, organizational values like participation and engagement. They just were not up for it.
The great thing about integral is that it clearly shows the left side of the page and clearly shows that it is unmarked territory. I mean, because of what we do, as coaches we tend to end up in that space anyway because it’s our view that if I want somebody to learn skills, that we’ve got to first of all have them look at their leadership – their self-image. You can teach people skills and kind of graft them on, but if you graft them on to poor root stock, you’re in trouble.
So when we’re working in an organization, we do start with the behavioral stuff, because that’s what the expectation is. But what very soon shows up is “I’m stuck unless I change my attitude or the way that I perceive this.”
And actually, our skills building workshops are quite powerful because, in the workshop, you have to look at your attitude and beliefs. You’re under the gaze of my team or your colleagues, and it’s terribly revealing.
Debby: Are you at all familiar with the work of Robert Kegan (speaking of Harvard)?
Myles: No, I’m not.
Debby: He wrote a book called In Over Our Heads. He has a developmental model that’s similar to, but not the same as, Ken Wilber’s, but a holds that humans develop through their lifetime in terms of capacities and complexity of thought. And one of his premises was that the current organizational demands on an individual are such that many individuals are not capable of doing what’s being expected of them.
I thought of this when you mentioned the audience that you were speaking to and that some of the demands organizations are making on people might be unethical. Kegan’s position is not so much that they’re possibly unethical, but more that the demands simply are impossible to meet. For example, many companies now are placing a lot of responsibility on the individual for their own personal development: the strategies, the training courses they want to take, basically designing their own path of career advancement.
Now, from the developmental point of view, some people are thrilled by that opportunity, to determine their own self actualizing path. Others don’t quite get it, but they can sort of understand the task needed to pick some training courses that relate to what they need to do. But there are others who just aren’t capable of doing that. They don’t know what they need. Maybe they don’t even know what they want, except to have friends and fit in.
So, Kegan and his associates have done a lot of work on that. He writes about personal development relative to (particularly) the demands placed on us in the workplace.
He also makes a differentiation between what he calls technical change and adaptive change. Technical change being…You need to learn a new skill in order to do your job well. So you go on a training course. They teach you maybe time management, or team dynamics, or advanced excel techniques. You learn new skills so that you can do your job a better way. The other kind of change required is adaptive change. That’s more like what you’re talking about with your attitudinal change.
It’s no longer enough to learn new skills to do what you need to do at work, but you need to get a broader prospective, you need to change your point of view, or as you put it, change your attitude. So these are different ways of sort of looking at, or defining what you were talking about and it’s getting to be quite well known at out there. These are two different kinds of changes, and they need two different kinds of interventions.
Myles: Yes. And one of the reasons why coaching is rising up the agenda is that if you have a certain level of competency in coaching embedded in your leadership population, then you can help people through, not just the technical changes, but also the adaptive changes.
Myles: And so part of that is to continue embedding these skills in the leadership population. Not all of it, but part of it. And there’s a kind of a beauty to that too. Some of our clients are working on strategies to create an internal bench of coaches, because the external provision of executive coaching is too expensive. And there maybe some merit in that, but they’re potentially overlooking the simplest solution, which is to skill up the leadership of management population.
There’s a long-term sustainability to that. It’s not just about addressing today’s challenge, it’s about addressing tomorrow’s challenge as well.
Debby: Why do you think they overlook that, Myles?
Myles: I think it’s about path of least resistance kind of stuff. I can be somebody who really gets what coaching is, want to have it in my organization and I might even have an aspiration. In fact, we have a client like this at the moment where there is an aspiration to have coaching embedded in the organization. But in order to get that to happen, they’ve got to get right into the chief executive’s office. And get that person to sign up to it.
Debby: Yes. Because it has to trickle down from the top, doesn’t it?
Myles: And very few chief executives are up for that. I can’t quite tell you why that hasn’t happened. It seems to me that it’s much easier for that inspired individual in the HR department to get sign-off to training up 10 people to be great coaches, much easier.
And at least then they feel they’re making a difference.
Debby: But not the transformative sort of difference that it would make if the leadership group…The main, the senior leadership group…
Myles: Exactly. See, the tragedy in this is that every manager in the country coaches day to day without realizing it. Every time they have a conversation with somebody in their team about a job or how to do the job, it is actually coaching. It’s just not very good coaching. It’s mostly of the directive variety, so the opportunity for the other person to think and take responsibility is lost in that.
It would be an extraordinary transformation. If you could get people to realize that coaching is happening every day, day in, day out, and then if people could actually say, “Oh! It would be really beneficial to me, to others, and to the organization, if I was better at coaching.” The productivity, innovation and just joy that this shift would release is so, so immense.
Debby: That sounds like a good idea for a book.
Myles: Well, it’s coming.
Debby: Yeah. Somehow the trick would be, I think, to get the managers to see it as a management technique book. [chuckle]
Myles: Yeah. Well, it’s a slow burn. I’ve got to finish the current book and then there’s something of that order to write. A friend of mine wrote a book recently and asked me to write the foreword, in which I said just that. That the largest group of coaches, and I said in the UK because it was book for the UK, is the management population. Trouble is, nobody told them. [laughter]
Debby: Right. So how does The School of Coaching then attempt to bridge this gap between creating the ideal coaching culture where the leadership team is au fait with all of this, and the reality that what you’re likely to get is a team of maybe self-selected, interested people, sponsored by HR, to learn coaching skills.
Myles: We have had some success, thankfully. One division of a UK bank was looking to regroup and refocus. It started with a number of conversations with the chief executive, with whom we had a good relationship. That led to doing some work with the executive team, where we re-examined the vision for their parts of the business. This always works best when you are working with a part of the business that you can get your arms around. If you’re trying to change the whole business overnight, you bump into so much organizational resistance that it’s almost too difficult to do. So you find a part of the business you can get your arms around. That executive team created a vision for the business. What became clear as part of that vision was that there was a need for them to be significantly better at their interactions with their own teams; coaching. So they were signed up for it, both personally and from a collective place. That conjunction then enabled us to start training them in coaching skills, and then the marketing director and the operations director both decided to take their own teams through a similar process.
So in about a year, we made significant in-roads into the kind of the engine room of that organization and that culture, and had a significant impact as a result of that.
Debby: I wonder if you were able to distill the strategies and tactics that you used in that circumstance into a process or an approach for the next time, or for another time, and repeat that success?
Myles: You have to play the right hand side of the page and the left hand side of the page. Organizational change works best when it emanates from the left hand side of the page–in the bank’s case, from the collective aspiration of the executive team. We’re trying to do something that’s far more emergent than most change processes, and have it be sourced from the left hand side of the page and if you do that then you never actually know what it’s going to look like next.
So you’re more of a guide and shaper than you are a management consultant.
Debby: Right. And the result is more of an emergent, co-creating event or series of events or experience.
Myles: Yes. And frankly, I think there’s massive space in the world of organizational development or organizational change for things that are much more emergent, that let new forms take place. The world is changing at such a vast rate. People who’ve been in work for some time, bought into the false promise that if you kept your head down and complied that you’d get paid and probably quite well paid and that your pension would be filled up. They’ve realized that, actually, that was a barren promise. The next generations, those in the work force for ten years and those coming in now, never signed up to that promise in the first place. Because they have such a greater sense of their own independence and authority, they don’t sign up to it in the same way.
My daughter has a much different sense of authority than I did. I was brought up to comply, she was brought up to think for herself. That means that across the working population, traditional hierarchical models are more and more difficult to impose and we’ve got to find things that are more flexible, that allow for different kinds of participation, that allow for people to come up with ideas and think and act on the basis of them. More distributed leadership. And those things are sourced on the left hand side of the page, and therefore require coaching, facilitation and different kinds of leadership, in order to get them to emerge.
We had an extraordinary situation in the UK recently demonstrating the fact that organizational shape is changing. David Cameron, the Conservative Party leader, said that he was going to set up certain social services units as cooperatives. Now, I don’t believe for a minute that he’s actually going to do that. But the fact that he could say it, says there’s something different going on in the world.
Debby: What do you think he means by that, in terms of operating as a cooperative?
Myles: That local authorities would be given their budget and the resources and charged to achieve certain objectives, but without having to refer to unwieldy bureaucracy.
Debby: Right. So no predefined process on how you’re going to get there.
Myles: Yes. And authority invested within that group of people.
Debby: So, one of the commonplace, or well-understood definitions of good leadership, I think, is that is the aim and the vision are very clear, and clearly communicated, so that everyone gets it and knows where we’re headed. And also, communicated in such a way that they understand what their contribution to this journey and feel that their contribution is critical.
Myles: I think there’s an intellectual understanding of that. And that exists in academia and in the consulting fraternities. The reality, in my experience, is that in business, when the pressure increases, the older reptilian part of the brain kicks in and the senior people want to take control.
Debby: Yes. We see how Ken Wilber’s work and the four quadrant approach have influenced what you do. But I don’t know very much about how Tim Galway’s work in the inner game has defined The School of Coaching and Myles Downey’s approach to coaching. I wonder if you could share a little bit about that.
Myles: Tim said some things that were so profound that they were almost overlooked. And what’s fascinating is that the neurosciences are beginning to at least suggest if not actually support some of the things he asserted in the 70’s, so 30 or more years ago. He had this extraordinarily simple idea of Self One and Self Two. I don’t mean to suggest that it’s, in some sense, true. It was just a useful way of looking at people in situations.
Self One is the internalized voice of your parents or your teachers. It’s vested in fear and doubt. In other words, if I can lock everything down, write out the instructions, not make a mistake, the world would be all right. And it’s kind of Irish Catholic guilt. It’s all of that stuff. It comes from a fearful place.
Self One is that bit of you that when you make a mistake, goes first to an expletive then to a judgment. You know, you are not good, I’m not good enough and finally to an instruction: “Stay on your toes”. Whereas Self Two, on the other hand, is the whole human being, in flow, with access to all its resources. It’s not interested in judgment; it’s interested in awareness. The judgment that says “That ball was out, you idiot!” (in the sporting context) doesn’t play for Self Two. Self Two calmly notices that the ball was three-inches long and doesn’t attach judgment to it because it knows that it will self-correct next time.
Self One and Self Two describe different mental states. So when I’m in Self Two, I will be my most articulate, I will think my best, I will create my best, I will intuit my best. So my view of coaching is that actually my first job is for me, as the coach, to be in Self Two, because that’s where I’ll do my best. And my second job is to get the person I’m coaching into Self Two, because that is where they will do their best thinking, best creating, best problem solving.
In some programs, you can have endless over-training of coaches. For instance you can have endless and tedious conversations about how you contract. And you can create long lists of what you need to do in order to contract with another human being that would take five hours to work through.
Debby: Sorry, when you say contract, I’m not sure what you mean.
Myles: If I’m to coach somebody, one of the things I need to do is a bit like a therapist or a psychologist might do, is to form a contract with that person.
Debby: Oh, right. Okay.
Myles: But actually, the real point behind contracting is to enable the player, the person being coached, to get into Self Two. If I went through that list and did all of those things about contracting: What time I’m going to ring what person? Are we going to have mobile phones on–no–and who is going to take notes? Then the person would be dead of boredom within about 15 minutes. So the purpose of contracting, and yes, there may be some kind of basics you need to take of care of.
But the real purpose of it is to get the other person to be comfortable and present, to be in Self Two. So once you have that comprehension, all your actions start flowing from that. You see a person grimace on the other side of the table. That’s information. It means that something has shifted, and you need to inquire as to what it is. So, two things that I get from Tim Gallwey: one, that notion of Self One and Self Two and the need for coach and coachee (or player) to be in Self Two; two, the notion that awareness is curative.
In other words, coaching isn’t a problem-solving exercise, although problems may be solved. It is about bringing all the details of a situation into awareness. So it’s a bit like a jigsaw puzzle. If somebody comes to me to be coached, their thinking is a bit like the bits of a jigsaw puzzle, mixed up all over the place.
And as they begin to put the bits of the jigsaw on the table, and they begin to realize where the edges are and where the corners are, and then begin to fill in some of the bits. I am assuming there isn’t kind of any picture already given, that it is just the bits. After a while they begin to see the pattern, the picture. And it’s not a fiercely deductive, furrowed-brow, hold-the-pencil-tighter kind of activity. It is a detached noticing of these bits and of a curiosity and a lightness of touch. It is only then that they can see the picture. So awareness is curative.
If I’m working with somebody on, for instance, their being anxious around presentations, one of the things I might do is help them simply become more aware of that level of anxiety, on a scale of one to ten, just as they are about to speak. And the simple act of just putting it on a scale of 1 to 10 in a nonjudgmental way causes it to shift. Particularly if you can generate on that scale, its natural opposite: so, anxiety to enjoyment. And, it’s remarkable what simply changes without any effort.
Debby: I’ve had an experience and I wonder if it’s simplification of what you’ve just explained. My coaching supervisor was talking to me about the GROW model, which many coaches follow. Her advice was to spend more time in the R part, where the Reality of the current situation is explored. Get them to explore all aspects of that, so that they’re aware of perspectives they haven’t thought of, or they take someone else’s perspective. Just explore that from all angles and spend a lot of time there. When I tried it, people easily came up with radical and immediate ideas of solutions, or what they want to try next instead. Because they just become aware, they think about it, they look at it, they remember what it was like, they compare it to other things, and then all of a sudden they go, oh! I know. I’m going to try this!
Myles: Yes. That’s it. And that’s much better than my expression earlier. Another example is a client I worked with fairly recently. After about our third meeting, as we were parting, he said, next time, we really must talk about my leadership. He’d had some feedback which was not so good. On the flight to our next meeting, I’d been reading a chapter from Tim’s book. It prompted me to act slightly differently. When we sat down in, he had his feedback on a chart in front of him, and he was in a slightly fearful, doubtful place about the whole thing.
Debby: Very much in Self One.
Myles: Yes. So I said, whoa, before we go anywhere, tell me the things that you do do as a leader. You don’t have to do a lot of them, or much of it. But just all the things you actually you do do as a leader. Tell me what they are.
It took him a few minutes to get into that. And he then made a list of all the things that he was doing. I didn’t say anything. I’d written the list down. I turned it around to him, and I asked him to read through it. He got to the end of the list and said, “It’s really simple. I just need to do more of that.”
And it was “boom!” It wasn’t that he was a bad person or he was a bad leader. His attention was just in the wrong place. And actually, he already knew what to do. It wasn’t a big deal.
Debby: That’s roughly how the inner game displays itself in the coaching work that you do. Right, I understand that. Not quite in all the detail as you do. But I’ve experienced the efficacy of that. And the results are almost magical.
Myles: It’s certainly much more fun than going in and trying to solve a problem for somebody. That’s a burden to have to bear. And I’m not smart enough to do that anyway.
Debby: It’s funny that a lot of the time that seems to be what they’re expecting. They will lay their problem on the table and the super coach will come up with some guidelines of steps they can take to remedy the situation.
Myles: And that’s why Self One is so pervasive. It’s because that’s how you were taught in school. That conference that I mentioned last week on resilience, the response was a collective Self One response. The person on before me told them what they should do. I asked them to think. That was just too scary.
Debby: Yes. Well, there was an organizational development expert we brought into one of the organizations I worked for. She said that people are too quick to jump at the first solution that seems viable, and that they need to learn to spend more time in the groan zone where it hurts. You don’t know what to do. The problem looks really big. But, she says, spend more time in the groan zone, and then, you’ll find a better solution; the first one is usually not the best. But boy! Companies do jump on to that first solution and say, “Yes, okay, we are agreed, we’re going to do that. Good! Go for it!”
Myles: Yup, Self One.
Debby: Yes. Very good! Very interesting.
Myles: When you have that distinction in mind, you begin to see lots of situations quite differently. And the trouble is Self One is so seductive. When somebody comes in who has experience, who has done this before and plays out the steps of how to get out of this financial crisis or whatever, it can be incredibly compelling, but not always the best thing.
Debby: Can we talk about The School of Coaching and your expansion and the change that you’re undergoing now? Could you summarize for our readers about where you started and what you’ve been through and where you’re headed now? That would be really helpful.
Myles: Well, I’ve long held the idea that coaching and the values and attitudes that that implies, in other words, valuing the thinking of other people and being skilled at getting them to do that thinking or imagining or creating, is not the whole solution, by any means. But it has quite a big part to play. I read something yesterday about a guy who is trying to bring coaching into villages in war-torn parts of Africa, or places where there has been famine. And the intention there is not to come in with solutions and all of those things, but to actually have people on the ground who are capable of helping others think for themselves and take responsibility. So from that kind of simple day-to-day situation, that is profound, right through to the bigger organizations around on this planet; I’ve always held that coaching has a significant contribution to make, and that we’ve made a mistake, which is that we have consigned it to the HR bin.
I started the school in 1996-97, and I had a mission for the school which I announced somewhat tongue-and-cheek, which was to transform the quality of conversation on the planet. I partly knew that in a very naive way that actually what was going to change Northern Ireland was not a political solution, but that actually you need people to have different kinds of conversations. That we know that terrorism exists when the society tolerates or supports it. It is an expression of a culture or society. It is not just some bad people running around the place; they are protected by their brothers and sisters and extended families. So unless you actually bring the light of day and awareness into it and have the conversations, nothing will change. So there was that notion. And frankly, I set up the business with a very good charity called the Work Foundation, but they didn’t have a real incentive to bring the school’s work to a wider audience, to go beyond the UK.
Over the years, I’ve sought ways of delivering on the mission. And where I am now with JMJ Associates, who have a similar line of work, different but similar; we have offices in six regions globally. I have a team within the school of 15 faculty. We have about 20 or 30 people who are JMJ consultants who want to be trained as coaches over the next little while. Now I have suddenly got resources, financial and intellectual and, importantly the people who want to play, to actually deliver on our mission and to seize a leadership position globally that says this is what coaching is. And whether we succeed or not is entirely another matter. It is the clear intent to take the space that is about global leadership in coaching.
Debby: Yes, yes, I can see that. I got the same feeling from others I spoke to at JMJ Associates.
Myles: Yeah. And you know it will be great to do it. And frankly, whether it succeeds really doesn’t matter. The point is the intent.
Debby: Yes, I know what you mean. It’s lovely to hear you say that.
Myles: Well, the invitation for hubris would be just too great if one assumed that one was going to do it. But it galvanizes our activities, sets a direction and inspires people.
And in the context of this conversation and the importance that I give coaching, then it seems to me to be a worthwhile thing to do; not just for any financial gain that might or might not accrue, but actually just because of the impact. We just finished the first three days of our flagship coaches program. And the last word that people say of that first three day (and they have got another seven workshop days to go over the next six months) are things like, “This has already changed my life and will change the life of the people around me.”
A few years back we had a headmaster from a school, who had been notoriously difficult on the program, and at the end of the program he said, “I know I have been difficult. But he said, what you don’t know is that is a function of my struggling with all of these things. I’ve turned my school into a learning organization of 2000 people and that includes the teachers.”
And I thought hell, that’s a game worth playing.
Debby: Yes it is, and that’s a quote worth having and a story worth telling.
Myles: Yes. So that’s where we headed with the school.
Debby: It’s very exciting. It’s keeping you very busy, isn’t it? What are you writing now?
Myles: My next book deliberately tells a story of an individual who has to step into his own shoes as a leader. It is eight coaching conversations, which take place in 8 different Dublin pubs. So these are Dublin pubs of 30-40 years ago where there was a different spirit and ethos. And they have these slightly crazy conversations. But the word coaching never gets mentioned. It’s a kind of a novella rather than a management book. It’s something I deeply want to write. The book will be released through our internet site chapter by chapter, initially for free, because it will simply kind of be a rallying device a marketing tool to raise awareness of what coaching actually is.
Debby: What’s your anticipated time frame for getting this one done?
Myles: Probably May 2010. It’s a very short book but then I’m so busy flying to America to train people there and then down to the Middle East to train people there and trying to work with our clients in the UK that I actually don’t have enough time to do the things that will add the most value.
Debby: It’s ever a challenge.
Myles: Yes. But, we will work through these things.
Debby: Right. So. We’ve talked about a lot of things.
Myles: We have.
Debby: Is there anything you feel that we’ve missed?
Myles: No, I think we’ve covered some really great stuff. I think we’ve actually done quite a bit of service to the integral notion. We’ve said a lot about what coaching is so in terms of my agenda and raising awareness about what coaching is, this has been fantastic. And I think I’d love to have the footnote be the last bit about the next book which is called, the working title is, The Sessions.
Debby: The Sessions, okay. People who read this in the Integral Leadership Review will come and download these things and pass them to their friends. So…
Myles: Well, yeah. And that will be available through the school’s website during the course of April.
Debby: Okay. There’s a commitment! We can find it on The School of Coaching website in May. This is fabulous.
Myles: I should tell you, Debby, it’s also going to be of great value to me. I’ve said some things here and connected some things slightly differently so it’s been really helpful for my own thinking. And I think whatever comes out of it will be of use to the school as well.
Debby: I think it’s very interesting because you’re definitely a leader in the integral world. I remember that when we first spoke, you didn’t see yourself that way. But I’m particularly interested in people who have an understanding of the four quadrants, even if they don’t call it that, and use that and apply that in practical work especially in the business world. People spend most of their lives in the business world and that’s where we can get our greatest joy and our greatest heartaches and our highest stress and our greatest rewards. So I think it’s really important and I’m just thrilled to death that you’re doing the work you’re doing and it’s great. That’s great.
Myles: Thank you. Thank you.
Debby: Thank you, Myles.
About the Interviewer
Debby Hallett is the Associate Editor and Bureau Chief in the United Kingdom forIntegral Leadership Review. She is a transplanted Yank and does consulting based on the work of Bill Torbert and Harthill UK, as well as Bill Joiner’s Leadership Agility. She can be contacted firstname.lastname@example.org.