Self-Coaching…Are You Listening?

In this time of “working smarter” and “doing more with less”, are you overlooking one of your most valuable assets?  While most of us have spent years developing relationships with our trusted advisors, mentors, and coaches, there are times when we cannot be “plugged in”.

I was not prepared on a recent trip to visit relatives in rural Connecticut, to “rough it”.  As I began to unpack, I turned my cell phone on to check my voice mail and found the words “no service” scrawled across my cell phone screen.  I couldn’t believe it!  This is America…This is the East coast of America where civilization has been around for a long time…What was the world coming to??  Oh well, I settled for the “hard wired” version of telecommunication.

Later I asked my nephew, a teen of 16 who “drives” a computer much better than me, to help me locate a website on the Internet.  To our mutual chagrin, although the website was eventually found, we could not download the desired file because the dial-up modem connection did not possess the necessary power.  Again…isn’t this America?

Then I realized I had been taken in…yes, even though I pride myself on being self-sufficient—I had done what I vowed not to do.  I became dependent…yes; I hate to say it—dependent upon technology that periodically lets me down—leaves me high and dry, so to speak.  Sometimes it is scary to realize just how fast we get used to our nationwide long-distance service, always-accessible cell phones, our PDAs and wireless Internet connections.

Just as the experience of “roughing it” in a rural area of Connecticut sharpened my awareness of dependency, so too, do we need to think about those times when our leadership tools are not readily available.

A recent study of 500 randomly chosen US business executives found that 82% talk over critical decisions with a colleague, or coach.  What do we do when our usual resources are not available?  We turn to our under-utilized valuable asset—our self-coach.  We have spent years developing ourselves in our professional roles.  Most of us have had thousands of discussions, hundreds of meetings, read myriads of articles and books and attended numerous seminars.  Where did all this data go?  Do we permanently delete these data files from our brains as we do our computers (without the brain asking “are you sure you want to permanently delete this file?”)?  Not to the extent one might believe. Our subconscious mind has a lot of room on its “hard-drive” and although access to these data files may be difficult, it is usually possible.

When faced an important decision and not able to utilize trusted resources, you can learn to access the coach who is always with you.  If you are not accustomed to this process it can be unsettling.  We have been trained to be collaborative, not autocratic.  However, when the circumstances dictate that “the buck stops here” and there is no way to consult your resources—“Rough It”—get back to basics.

Five Steps to Access Your “Self-Coach”

For some this is the biggest challenge of all. In our society it is easy to never experience solitude or quiet and if we have not had it for a while, it can be uncomfortable or downright scary.  Many of us have designed our lives to accommodate a professional and personal life filled with more demands than we have time for.  But if you try solitude, you may find that you get the opportunity to hear your own answers to the questions plaguing you. It is certain, however, that in the rush of constant stimulation, we will not hear the inner coach.  Find a quiet, pleasant spot (either close your eyes or actually go there) and focus on your breathing for a moment—let all the noise of life go away for a few minutes—it will be there when you get back.

One of the best ways to tap into what you know is to ask “good” questions.  “Have I ever encountered a problem similar to this?”
 “If not, did I ever see anyone else experience a situation like this?”
 “What did I / they do?”
  “How well did it work?”
 “How are my current conditions different from that experience?”
  “What is the worst that could happen?”
  “What is the best possible outcome?”
  “What do I need to get the desired result?”

These are all examples of probing questions to facilitate accessing our self-coach.

A powerful, effective stimulus to access things we “know” but cannot recall is to write or journal, diagram, outline, draw a picture or in some way record your thoughts in “hard copy”.  Each of us has an individual preference for the format of this record.  The important step is to record it.  This has been proven time and time again to improve our creative thought processes and assist access to our subconscious, where much untapped information resides.  Trust me on this one—quiet yourself, ask powerful questions and record the answers and your thoughts about the issues or even generate more questions and record these.  You will be surprised—one never knows where the mental journey will lead.

One step many find helpful is to identify the costs and benefits of your potential approaches to problems.  Some of us do this naturally, as a habit.  But again, there is benefit to recording, in a visual manner, the “plusses and minuses” to our plan.  It is an aid to clarify our thinking—to give us a sense of control over the problems at hand.

The steps previously outlined may have to be revisited several times prior to feeling confident of your plan, but as you go through this process a number of times you will become more adept at tapping into your inner coach.  Your subconscious has been gathering data for years and storing it in a manner that is congruent with your value system.  It is time to trust you!  You did not get to this place in your career by being “lucky”—you do know a few things!

Being your own coach is not always the best option—but for those times when your usual collaborators and coaches are not available, it can be reassuring to realize you are a forceful ally in your quest for effective leadership. Sometimes technology is fabulous!  However, it is best to know how to swim in case you fall off the boat!