This article is written by CoachingOurselves co-founder Jonathan Gosling (Emeritus Professor of Leadership Studies at the University of Exeter). Please read on for a fantastic take on the importance of CoachingOurselves and how to make this a valuable tool for managers. Discover Jonathan’s CoachingOurselves topic on Reflection.
Thinking more deeply about managing
All of us depend on managed institutions. CoachingOurselves offers structured inquiry into the detail of managing, and thereby invites deeper appreciation about the real work of management.
This deep appreciation is more difficult than it might seem because we are very practiced at talking about our jobs as if it is something to be thrown away with light words – the Orwellian ‘newspeak’ that skates over the moral predicaments implicit in ‘process improvement’, ‘downsizing’, ‘efficiency gains’, performance assessment’ and so forth.
So we must take time to listen carefully to our own experience and each others’ experience, and from listening carefully comes insight and appreciation, and more importantly, curiosity – managing and doing business is such an interesting job!
The real opportunity of CoachingOurselves is to grow more curious and more interested in what is involved in making things happen, in working with people to develop new opportunities and to solve very difficult problems when they arise. This is all necessary if we are to create more value in the working lives of all of us, and to generate wealth for ourselves, our societies and for future generations.
CoachingOurselves is important also because it examines significant and sometimes paradoxical concepts; well thought-out, scientifically derived concepts from the world of scholars and clinicians tested and honed in the daily practising life of managers. Concepts that can clarify the often-confusing circumstances of working life.
How to make it valuable for you – as manager or managed
Each topic is a whole unto itself – an opportunity to re-frame the kinds of things one might notice at work or when thinking about how business is conducted. Participants are urged to try out these new perspectives, test them against your own experience, and be alert to possible resonances (and discords). That way, you can do more than read about the topic (for example, managing change), and discover yourself as an actor within it. Perhaps playfully, you can look forward to the week ahead to speculate about how you might start to manage a little differently…
So start each topic with a lively curiosity and interest into what kinds of experience the author is talking about; in other words, allow yourself into the perspective that sees this topic as important to deal with; read with your sympathy as well as your mind. Reflect and think back on your experience of managing the past week or two, and quietly remember the problems you have had to deal with. Curiosity is the starting point.
In many ways this CoachingOurselves is built on reflectiveness, and that’s probably still the key to reading it. It’s very difficult for a busy manager to imagine how much value can be found in quiet reflective reading. But the very special opportunity you have with CoachingOurselves topics is to structure your reflective reading and (probably) to discover how much you really know.
Nonetheless, bring your critical, analytical attention to each topic. The term ‘analysis’ (Ana-Lysis) comes directly from the Greek ‘loosen up’, because it eases the tightly-bound coherence of the accounts we are given, to reveal constituent elements and dynamic forces that could perhaps be put together in other ways. A financial analyst ‘undoes’ the reports and accounts put out by a company, to try to find out how they have been put together, under what assumptions and to serve which interests.
The authors of CoachingOurselves topics have done the same with organisational ‘accounts’ – they loosen-up the stories we are told about organisational life – resistance to change, rogue behaviour, role confusion and so on – to find out what might lie beneath these appearances, and how else we might describe them. So enjoy loosening-up and re-tying with the authors.
Weaving organisational work
This metaphor of loosening and tying the threads of comprehension has provided a consistent texture to my thinking about management, so allow me draw to it out here.
What is managing? Imagine that managerial work is like weaving a beautiful piece of cloth from different shades, in particular five colours, each a distinctive mindset; five ways to think, to approach the world.
The first is reflectiveness. If we are not reflective we can’t think about or learn from our experience, we bring no intelligence to the job. But reflection alone is the work of a recluse – not of a manager. You have to also be active, to drive to make things happen, to change, adapt and invent.
Then act and reflect, act and reflect soon develops into a more thoughtful relationship between my doing, my thinking and what I see actually happening. This is the beginning of an analytic mindset, which unties and re-constitutes the meaning of things, weighs and assesses each yarn.
Nothing gets done in this world without other people; it’s only by collaborating with others that new possibilities (beyond mere visions) are discovered, especially in managing, which is all about relationships. The collaborative mindset is that inner urge to connect with other people, to create something valuable and new together and to discover opportunities that can only be made when two different people come together.
The fifth mindset is worldliness. This is not the same as global, which is when we see the whole world as one: important in business – in fact most discussion in business assumes everything is one and alike in capacity for exchange, but you don’t get anything done on that level of abstraction. Really making a business work is when you understand how the world looks from where others are. This requires a generous spirit to put yourself in their shoes, to see the world from their point of view. This is the spirit or mindset of worldliness. There’s another aspect – practical wisdom, that knowledge which comes from experience, many years of making things happen, working with people – sometimes you can’t say why you think something is true, but you know it is, from your experience. This is worldly wisdom.
So we have five mindsets, reflective, active, analytic, collaborative and worldly. Weaving these five mindsets through the daily tasks is what we do when managing. If some come more easily than others, it is likely because they defend us against discomforting aspects of experience. Action crowds out the need to empathize collaboratively with others; reflection can become a way to avoid conflict that might follow from action, however necessary to progress; and earnest collaboration can be a way to avoid recognizing worldly differences in a team or partnership. The particular texture of management in any organisation is an expression of both personal and cultural characteristics. CoachingOurselves is a way to lift the covers of organisational life, perhaps to see clearly what we always suspected was going on beneath.
I hope you will enjoy it, and find it fruitful.