Note from Tom: This is a special guest post brought to you by Adrian Reynolds. In it, Adrian addresses one of the big keys to doing effective coaching and change work. Enjoy.
I bought some new trainers the other day. They seemed fine in the shop, but a few minutes walking and it was clear they didn’t fit properly. And wearing them in has resulted in my feet getting worse rather than the trainers getting better. Looking at the blister on one toe, I reflected that it was time to do something different. My solution? I’ve put a sweet potato in each of the shoes, hoping that within the week they’ll have stretched to accommodate my feet.
There is method in this apparent madness. The sweet potatoes are just the right size for the job, unlike the regular potatoes in the kitchen right now –
Hang on, this sounds familiar…In mentioning sweet potatoes and footwear I’m using some of the approaches that inform my style of change work. Most important, a belief that the solution to get what you want is likely to be close at hand, if you keep an open mind about the form it might take.
There’s a presupposition within that outlook, too. It’s to do with not taking anything for granted. To realise that, more often than not, the elements of a situation we believe are fixed are in fact variables. And that includes the solutions we sometimes want to bring to overcome our challenges.
For instance, there are people out there who have a tendency to whip out a particular paradigm regardless of what’s actually happening. Could be perceptual positions, neurological levels, or pretty much anything: their favourite bit of the NLP toolkit. Or in fact outside it: some people swear by chakras, others favour spreadsheets.
Now, all of those approaches have their place from time to time – but trying to bolt them to everything you come across in a one size fits all fashion is about as helpful as insisting that a particular pair of trainers fit when the wearer’s feet are protesting to the contrary.
Somewhere within that notion of having a universal panacea, a change process that will work wonders for all, is a failure for the agent of change to appreciate it’s not just the client’s map that isn’t the territory. Theirs (yours, mine) is just as partial, just as unreliable. And the only way you get to find what might be a useful approach is to pay attention. Something will emerge, and in responding to it you might find yourself looking in unusual places for resources.
In listening to one client, it became clear that the relationship issues she experienced were principally due to her being too resourceful. She’s a bright and confident pragmatist prepared to get her hands dirty, and that eminently capable outlook was causing problems. While she was great at being the grown up, it also meant that her husband had wiggle room he used to flake out. The solution was to allow her the option to be the weak one if it would encourage him to man up. Over three years later, and things are going swimmingly for them both. The resource she wasn’t using was the choice to be unresourceful…sometimes.
(For those tempted to look at the above as an example of encouraging a woman to revert to a stereotypically helpless role, please consider: by adding a choice to her repertoire, she gained flexibility and power in line with cybernetic principles. That extra notch gave her control over the system. Requisite variety in action.)
It’s all very well having the resources we need to change. Realising that they exist and have utility is what counts. One client wanted help in defining and developing his niche as a coach. It soon became apparent that his biggest asset was something he entirely overlooked – his heritage. As a British Asian in his 30s he has a perspective that extends in many directions. He has deep roots within Asian culture – and it wasn’t long before we hit on a way of serving those communities professionally in a way that honours his past and the person he’s become. Sometimes even looking in the mirror won’t show you what you need to see. Me holding it in a way that he could see his reflection in a new light was a defining moment.
All of this is in the service of helping people and organisations evolve through exploring their situations creatively. Sometimes I work on my own. To make extra sure I don’t believe my own hype, I also collaborate with Annie Dickinson, whose track record includes work as a coach and consultant at a senior level in FTSE 100 companies.
You can find out more about Adrian and Annie's work at www.evolver-talent.com