Monthly Archives: May 2013

Barriers & Enablers To Effectiveness: No2 Helplessness

Very often, during my coaching conversations, one of the biggest challenges that occurs for people is for them to see themselves as “responsible” for their results. Until a person is willing to see themselves as “responsible”, they are effectively, helpless: waiting for someone or something to come along and change things for them. It is not unusual for people to spend years (or longer !) in this state, and while they are in it, no amount of coaching is ever going to be effective.

The whole concept of “responsibility” is a big topic in being effective, and not one that I propose to dig into in this particular blog (maybe next time !) – instead, I want to take a quick look at what gets in the way of someone seeing themselves as “responsible”.

Two of the biggest barriers that typically occur are these:

1. Blame and Fault

“If I accept that I am responsible, then I am to blame and/or at fault for what happened.”

To see it like this is to misunderstand the notion of responsibility.

When I coach people about taking a “responsible” point of view, I am not interested in blame or fault (or credit) – rather I just want the person to see that they had input into creating the result. Maybe that input was active (it was something they did) or maybe it was passive (it was something they did not do.) Maybe it wasnt an action at all, and was simply a choice they made about their attitude towards the situation.

Once I have succeeded in having someone take a responsible point of view, then the second barrier kicks in.

2. “Why Would  I Do That?” (Im not stupid!)

Although this is rarely stated, this is often the 2nd major underlying barrier to being “responsible”.
Even if a person is willing to give up the notion of blame and fault and see that they had input into the situation and result, they cannot see why they would then do that, especially if it a repetitive pattern in their lives.

“Why would I keep on sabotaging myself like that” ?

The answer to this question is often uncomfortable for someone to acknowledge; namely that, although, on the surface, the result is one that they did not like, they are getting some benefits or “secondary gains” from this course of action.

Human beings are, on one level, very simple creatures – we keep doing things that give us what we want, and we stop doing things that do not give us what we want. So, from my coaching viewpoint, my coachee is not “sabotaging” him/herself, instead, he/she is producing a result, which at some level, serves them.

For example, I was recently coaching somebody who had a chronic habit of being late, and they had been told that this was one of the things that they needed to handle if they were to be promoted. Once we had battled through all the excuses and justifications, we finally came to this question:

“OK – so if I am responsible for my punctuality, then what is my “secondary gain” for being late all the time …What is my payoff for being late?”

In their case, once we explored this together, the coachee came to see that, rather than an act of self-sabotage, this was, in fact, an effective strategy to generate something that was very important to them throughout their life: namely, visibility.Once they were late, then when they did arrive, all eyes swiveled onto them, and they became the center of attention ! Perfect !

Now, there is a possibility of change, because the coachee sees that their results are in their hands.

Whether they go on to make a new choice (be on time) and create new results (get promoted) is still to be seen, but at least they have now shed their cloak of helplessness and can see the possibility of new actions and results.

Marcus Marsden

TWP Partner

Senior Trainer & PCC Executive Coach

Barriers & Enablers To Effectiveness: No1 Entitlement

This is the first in a series where we will explore some of the most common barriers to being effective.

Barrier: Entitlement

Entitlement: “That to which I have a right”

This is one of the most pervasive barriers that I see when I am coaching people. Although it is rarely spoken – people do not often go around saying:” I am entitled to do / not do that” – it is a very common mindset that underpins their actions and undercuts their capacity for effective action.

There are many reasons why someone might start to feel entitled. The most common come from a position held or a length of time served, eg:

“I am a Director now, so….”

“I have worked in this company for 10 years, so …”

“I am the father/mother/eldest child/breadwinner in this family, so…”

“I have been working hard all week, so …”

The feeling of entitlement comes from an assessment that you have done something to “deserve” or “earn” the right to do or not do something else.

The feeling is also comparative: “I have done something and you/they have not”. What we tell ourselves is that if/when the other person has done as much as we had, then they would be entitled to the same benefit. This is often linked to a sense of “earning your stripes” or “paying your dues”

Usually, when somebody believes themselves to be entitled, they have a logical reason to justify that belief. After all, if you are a Senior Manager and have worked in the business for 10 years, do you not have rights and privileges that a new management trainee does not share?

This is where the breakdown begins:

It may well be the case that your past history has earned you certain “rights” in the company or family with regard to what you are expected to do or not do, but, when you are faced with a choice between exercising those rights and being effective, which will you choose ?

A surprising number of people will choose the former option. They see that if they do something “below their pay grade” then there is the possibility of success, maybe even a major success, but what gets in the way, is their notion of entitlement and their concept of “fairness” eg

“Sure, I know I could stay back at the office for another two hours to finish this report, but that is no longer my job – I used to do that when I was a junior manager, and now, Im a senior manager – it is not fair to expect me to still do that, and I’m entitled not to do it – just look at my title”

The consequence is that the results suffer – sacrificed on the altar of their righteousness. It became more important to be right about their “rights” than to achieve the best possible result.

The “rights” to which you believe you are entitled may be enshrined in a contract, or they may be unspoken expectations, which live in your head. Both are barriers to being effective, but the latter is especially difficult for others to work with, as they have no idea as to what your unspoken expectations actually are.

What makes “entitlement” especially combustible to work with is the emotion that often accompanies it: “righteous indignation”.  Such a combination makes the person concerned very difficult to work with, as they are either likely to explode, without warning, from the perceived injustice of it all, or simply just clam up and take the attitude of “well if you cant figure out the problem here, then Im not going to tell you”.

So, what is the alternative ?

The solution has two elements: the first step is to recognize it in yourself, when it arises (and it surely will, at some point in your life!) Once you become aware of it, then you have the possibility of making a different choice.

You cannot change something that you cannot see. This is why all TWP Leadership Development work centers on “Self Awareness” – supporting people to see that to which they themselves are blind.

The second step is to ask yourself what you want to achieve in the situation that you are facing: Do you want to be right about your belief in your entitlement or do you want to be effective?

Are you willing to take a responsible attitude to the results around you, or are you instead going to focus on your “rights” in the situation?

If you are currently experiencing any frustration in life with regard to your results, check in with yourself and see if there is a notion of entitlement somewhere in there.  It is one of the biggest barriers to being effective.

Marcus Marsden

TWP Partner

Senior Trainer & PCC Executive Coach