Executive coaching

Executive coaching is a rare opportunity for executives to have a candid conversation about any aspect of their business and life with a trusted confidant who can help them to see things objectively.

Often executives are at the mercy of their own and others’ biased view, reducing the chance of good strategic decision making.

As elite athletes have long known, a trusted and talented coach can significantly up the game.

“Once used to bolster troubled staffers, coaching now is part of the standard leadership development training for elite executives and talented up-and-comers at IBM, Motorola, J.P. Morgan, Chase, and Hewlett Packard. These companies are discreetly giving their best prospects what star athletes have long had: a trusted adviser to help reach their goals.”
– CNN.com

Executive coaching provides a rare opportunity for business people to get a clearer view of their business challenges









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Two types of learning

In the one type of learning we get exposed to some facts and we need to repeat them back to prove we know them.

This is useful for an ever decreasing number of activities.

In the past we would value someone who could repeat a lot of facts.

Today recognition has moved to the person who can synthesise a lot of facts and make sense of them. We no longer need to remember any fact because they are all only a Google away.

Synthesis is a different type of learning and is required today even for young children.

Think back to what you learned at school. What can you recall? Maybe a handful of the thousands of facts that you knew at the time of your tests and exams.

More valuable than the facts are the techniques you learned for finding the facts and for relating facts to real world applications. This is synthesis.

Remembering facts requires you to have a good memory.

Thinking strategically requires you to be good at synthesis.

If you re-read the first sentence it really sounds preposterous doesn’t it?

Synthesis learning













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A managers roots

Business in the industrial age required us to check our personality at the door.

Come on in and be a resource, a human resource. Which makes sense when humans were coming in to complement the machinery.

The root manage has its’ origin in manège, which if you look up means, ‘The art of breaking, training, and riding horses’.

The line manager was the person who sat at the end of the production line ensuring compliance with the strict system of production. Breaking, training and riding people.

How does this fit with today’s knowledge workers and why do we still use these antiquated terms?

No wonder so many companies still expect us to leave our personality’s at the door.

Human resources implies bring the human but leave the humaness.

Factory environment

















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Mihali Csikszentmihalyi’s (tip you pronounce his surname as chicks-send-me-high) 1975 diagram (below) provides a neat picture of how we get into Flow, that state where everything seems to click and time passes faster than we expect. 

Sportsmen call it being in the zone – that state when nothing can go wrong. Tennis balls look bigger and golf balls magically get pulled towards holes. 

Other ways of knowing when we are or have been in flow are when:

  • People ask us how we do something and we cannot explain it to them.
  • We have more energy at the end of the task than when we started.
  • We feel exhilarated.
  • Time flies past.
  • We see connections easily and effortlessly to keep us moving forward
His diagram is also useful for identifying the causes of worry and anxiety, when we have a challenge that is beyond our skill level;
Or boredom and apathy when we are over qualified for the challenge with more skills than are needed. 
Optimally we move towards the yellow zones of Arousal, Control and Flow.

Mihali Csikszentmihalyi's diagram showing the optimal balance between skill and challenge and how that leads to flow













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The purpose of fear

Fear keeps us alive. 

Neanderthal cavemen knew to climb a tree when the feeling deep inside them alerted them to buffalo about to stampede.

Today, we know to pay more attention when driving at 100 miles an hour than when we are driving through the mall.

However we do not always see the fear that holds us back from taking the next step in our business or personal endeavours.

Fear’s purpose is very simple, it is an emotion that says, ‘pay attention you could get hurt here.’

We often focus on the second part of that and ignore the first. 

The purpose of fear is to make us cautious, not to paralyse us. 

To keep calm, acknowledge the fear and keep going.  

Paralysed cavemen did not last very long.

Keep calm and carry on even if you are feeling fearful













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The strategic thinking of Lance Armstrong and Ivan Fernandez Anaya

There are some lessons in leadership and strategic thinking from the major sporting news events these past days.

In startling contrast is Lance Armstrong’s confession to Oprah (2.22 video) and Ivan Fernandez Anaya’s incredible gesture (1:26 video) to Kenyan Abel Mutai in a cross-country race in Burlada, Navarre. Mutai, who had stopped short of the line believing he had finished was helped over the line by Anaya who coming second had caught up with him.

Said Anaya afterwards, “I didn’t deserve to win it. I did what I had to do. He was the rightful winner. He created a gap that I couldn’t have closed if he hadn’t made a mistake. As soon as I saw he was stopping, I knew I wasn’t going to pass him.” 

The contrast illustrates the difference between long and short term strategic thinking. 

Armstrong won many battles and lost the war, his career and now a large chunk of his life.

Anaya just lost a single battle but moved his and sports’ campaign forward on a number of others.

Ivan Fernandez Anaya helps Abel Mutai across the line











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Finding Sugarman – Finding Ourselves

The Oscar nominated film Searching for Sugarman is profound on many counts.

Besides the heartfelt story and poetic music that I grew up to, it is a good balancing message for the Malcolm Gladwell / personal development pundits who say that once you do your 10,000 hours all will be ok.

Well actually it is not ok. Proclaimed by many as an equal of Bob Dylan, Sixto Rodriguez’s music didn’t sell. With no future as an artist he gave up that career returning to manual labour as a construction worker.

He spent years in the wilderness far away from the world of music. Then two curious fans wondered how it was that half a million of his albums had sold in South Africa (population then of 40 million) and yet he was unknown in his own United States. They tracked him down and reunited him with his fans.

Now his story is growing in popularity along with his music. He has concerts scheduled across the world. His fame is a result of actions far beyond his control and unrelated to the quality of his art.

The message is that art should not be done for the audience but rather done as an expression of ourselves. If the audience responds then brilliant, if not just carry on.

We are moving away from the industrial age labour of the office cubicle. Today the world values the individual art of entrepreneurs and those of us prepared to break out of how work has been defined for the past century.

This shift makes the story of Rodriguez probably one of the most valuable of our time.

Quotes from Time magazine interview with Sixto Rodriguez (28th January 2013)

Time: I’m guessing you’re not doing much demolition any more?

SR: I was doing demolition yesterday. I’m renovating my home.

Time: You’re doing your own demolition? At 70?

SR: I live below my means. I think that’s a good discipline because you never can tell. I’m not an ascetic. I just think that’s wiser.

Full interview  

The original Sixto Rodriguez album Cold Fact - Only sold in South Africa












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Unlimited power to ask questions

“We have unlimited power to ask questions.”

“Say that again,” I said.

“We might get shot down for making a statement against the status quo but we have unlimited power to ask questions”, the executive repeated. 

This is an incredible insight. No matter how difficult the environment or how dictatorial your bosses may be, questions have the power to change thinking and that is where change starts. 

We have unlimited power to ask questions









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Intention and impact

Our intentions are often misinterpreted or misunderstood.

The root of most conflict lies in the gap between intention and impact. 

So it is not enough to have good intentions.

We need to understand the impact of our words and actions if we are going to be successful in our strategies.

I’m misunderstood just means so little.

The difference between intention and impact can lead to conflict








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