November 28, 2014

Assumptions and the ladder of inference

In the last two weeks I became aware of 3 assumptions which I made which were perfectly reasonable, but also perfectly wrong. It reminded me of the pictures used to illustrate Gestalt theory for example the one below:

gestalt picture

Picture source: http://www.curiositiesbydickens.com/2012/03/

Sometimes we only see a part of the picture but sub-consciously complete it using our assumptions, leading to a correct or often an incorrect completion of the picture. Being conscious of this process is really powerful in understanding how we make sense of the world.  It enables us to challenge the lens through which we view situations and gain different perspectives which can then inform our decisions.

To help with understanding this, I would like to share a model developed by Chris Agyris and Peter Senge called the ‘ladder of inference’ which a colleague reminded me of recently (thank you Annick!).

Ladder_F1

Picture source: http://www.processexcellencenetwork.com/lean-six-sigma-business-transformation/columns/working-the-ladder-of-inference-part-1/

Imagine an interaction between two people. At the very bottom of this ladder, we consider the ‘observable data’. This is the data that a video recorder would record if there in the moment. It is the solid ground on which the ladder is positioned. From this data then, we select the a sub-set of data that we believe is relevant to us and this will be different for all of us. No doubt we all have recollections of conversations where different people remember completely different things from a meeting. The data we notice is that which typically fits with our views of the world. It helps to simplify the situation so we can make sense of it. At this stage as we can see, we are already restricting our data-set and seeing a narrow view of the reality.

From there we add meaning based on our personal history, experience culture etc. and then this is where we start to make assumptions. As we go up the ladder further we see that this leads us to drawing conclusions based on these assumptions and ultimately taking actions based on beliefs (which are often times firmly held).

So we go from the solid ground of observable data, up the ladder of inference and end up with firmly held beliefs which are based on restricted data, meaning being added, assumptions being made and conclusions being drawn.

This process is crucial to us not being over-whelmed when trying to make sense of situations. We do this on auto-pilot. What has been really interesting for me recently is to walk through this ladder to understand where my assumptions went astray almost in slow motion. What part of the picture was I not seeing? What meaning did I add based on my personal history that I need to re-think in the future? All of this can help us understand the lens we use to view the world and how we might broaden our perspectives.

 

Once again in my opinion, the greatest learning comes from situations which are not neat and orderly, but those that challenge our thinking!

 

 

 

November 25, 2014

An unexpected lesson in coaching psychology… from the long grass!

Those who know me won’t associate me with golf. I took it up over a decade ago, but it didn’t last long due to the arrival of family and all that that entails! Anyhow, last summer as my own kids took an interest in golf I came across an opportunity for golf lessons that I couldn’t pass up. It entailed 7 lessons in a driving range with 9 other ladies as well as 3 on a golf course with a buddy.

About 10 days ago I was due to have my first experience on a golf course in 10 years. I have to admit it was a bit daunting, so you can imagine that I was a little relieved when it was called off due to rain. So last Sunday morning, I was again secretly hoping for the same phone-call but on this occasion it went ahead. It turned out that my ‘buddy’ was the pro in the golf club and none of my playing partners turned up! As one of my girls would say, this could be ‘a little bit good and a little bit bad’!

I tee’d off at the first hole and the ball cleared a stream (an obstacle I had been unaware of beforehand!) and landed in long grass. I didn’t disgrace myself on Sunday, but I did get quite familiar with navigating long grass and this is where I gained some insights into coaching psychology.

golf ball in long grass

Maybe it’s better not to know all the obstacles: I take quite a diagnostic approach to coaching leveraging adaptive leadership frameworks and approaches. I love to get stuck in to make sure a problem is really understood before taking action. So what was interesting for me on Sunday after taking this first shot is the fact that if the pro had pointed out the stream, I would probably have become apprehensive of it, and may have come up short or landed in it. One thing is for sure, I would probably have tried too hard and I would not have taken my best shot. So maybe knowing the in’s and out’s of a situation is not always helpful. I find approaching an issue with a ‘beginners mind’ invaluable, but it is key to balance the need to understand an issue with the risk of over-thinking it.

Picturing success not failure: As the ball lay in the long grass, the golf pro said ‘now don’t scoop it up Eadine’. So what did I do?… I scooped it up and it landed back into the long grass. So the pro said ‘now this time Eadine, make sure you don’t scoop it up!’…. and once again I scooped it up with a marginally more successful outcome. The pro asked me what happened. So I told him the story of the pink elephant.

Imagine I asked you not to think of a pink elephant…. what do you do? Of course, you visualise a great big pink elephant. The more vivid the description of the elephant the clearer the picture.

pink-elephant-clip-art-eiMjoknin

So I asked him what success looked like and he painted this for me in graphic detail along with an image of the great big divot that should appear in the grass afterwards. A lovely shot followed…. and this could not have been taught in the driving range.

Nothing can beat real live experience: All the lessons in the world in the driving range were no substitute for getting out there. As mentioned in a recent article in Forbes magazine ‘Can leadership be taught?‘, 70% of learning comes from ‘on-the’job’. The author describes the ideal blend of 70:20:10 between ‘on-the-job’, coaching/ mentoring and classroom sessions. Much of my work involves supporting and challenging clients as they take on ‘stretch assignments’ in the workplace. Even in the classroom sessions that I and my colleagues facilitate, we ask participants to bring in real live challenges to work in the classroom to apply concepts being learnt. I learnt more from my 1 hour on the golf course (with a patient pro) than in the 7 (albeit necessary) lessons in the driving range.

 

Last Sunday morning’s golf lesson served as a reminder to me of some principles of coaching and positive psychology …. and hopefully my golf improved also! Only time will tell…

 

 

Image Source: http://www.gettyimages.ie/detail/photo/golf-ball-in-long-grass-in-the-rough-high-res-stock-photography/88802021

 

November 14, 2014

Are you ‘immune to change’?

How many of us make new years resolutions with the best of intentions but don’t follow through on them? How many of us are intent on improving our listening skills, delegating more or changing any other behaviours that would enhance our abilities to do a better job,… but somehow we never really get there?

In the video below Robert Kegan shares an overview of our in-built ‘immunity to change’ which as he describes results in us having ‘one foot on the brake and one foot on the gas’. This model of change that Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey developed allows us gain insights into the in-built assumptions that we make that can block us from making the changes we desire despite our best intentions. These are examples of personal adaptive challenges rather than technical challenges in the language of ‘adaptive leadership’.

 

I have now used this model with many clients as well as personally, and I have to say that the richness of the exploration is amazing in almost all cases. We discover internal resistance or ‘big assumptions’ that we never anticipated. Through discovering these ‘big assumptions’ we can devise experiments that allow us to test their validity and alter the way we see the world with the aim of releasing us from this ‘immunity to change’.

The fascinating thing for me is that this can be used to understand a group or teams ‘immunity to change’ as well as individuals. It provides a new opportunity to help teams spot assumptions which are preventing them from fulfilling their collective potential.

Next week, my coaching class from 2008 are meeting going to explore this approach in depth and share experiences of using it. My homework for this session prompted me to write this – thanks John and Barbara! If you would like to learn more about this approach don’t hesitate to get in touch or check out Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey’s web-site.

 

 

October 1, 2014

Upcoming Leadership Development Lab with AZck

From October 22 – 24th Annick Zinck and Tom Greder will host another leadership lab in Switzerland using the performing arts to learn about how we lead. From personal experience I would highly recommend this experiential workshop. There are currently 3 places left. For further information click here.

August 12, 2014

UCD MBA Coaching Article …. just published

Six years ago a coaching pilot was launched with MBA students in the Smurfit Business School. To date 851 individuals from 30 different countries have benefited from this programme.

The purpose of the MBA coaching programme is to provide a space for reflection in the lives of MBA participants to enable them to work on a personalised agenda thereby maximising the value of the MBA as they transition back into the work-place.By Jennifer Fishbein..

Myself, Orla Nugent (MBA Programme Director) and Michael McDonnell (Leadership Development Programme Manager) took a look back over the last six years of the programme and recently published this article in the Association for Coaching Bulletin. Hopefully you will find it of interest.

June 20, 2014

Leadership values for Ireland

Is it just me or is everyone talking about ‘values’ in leadership these days? I have noticed an increase in such conversations in the last 6 months.

UK Values

UK Values

This week, it has come up every single day whether with colleagues or clients (corporate and personal).

I came across some research done by the Barrett Values Centre in 2012, where they surveyed 4,000 people to understand their personal values to form a view of what’s important to society as a whole in the UK (See picture and more detail in this report).

 

 

Would it be useful to understand Irish values so it can inform decision making at a national level?

March 18, 2014

Leadership and clowning!

Imagine a big room in the attic of a rural hotel in the Swiss mountains. There are 8 people, 2 facilitators (clown/ consultants) and 6 participants diverse in  terms of age and country of origin. This is a leadership lab run by AZck! Learning and Development in conjunction with Tom Greder.

I went to this programme as a participant really unsure what leadership can learn from clowning but open to finding out. The journey over the 3 days brought us out of our comfort zones (with our permission) and helped us each to address areas of development we wanted to explore. I have never before seen a programme so tailored to the needs of the individual.

March 2014 106

Like many leadership programmes, we explored the areas of self-awareness and our impact on others. However  in contrast to the usual programmes, we really entered unknown territory. Our journey mirrored some of the challenges of life outside the lab: leading in ambiguous situations, with limited resources and having to improvise in the spotlight (although in this case, there really was a spotlight!)

We often learn a lot from times when we are stretched… and this was one of those occasions – a very special one indeed! We learnt and laughed so much!

So I ask myself the question in hindsight what has leadership got to learn from clowning? Surprisingly for me, quite a lot! So many of the regular leadership themes emerged in the act of clowning: presence, vulnerability, connection with others, leadership and followership, adaptability and so much more. But instead of reading it from a textbook or listening to theory, we were in a laboratory, and we ourselves were the subject of our own experiments. I can’t think of a more engaging way to learn.

February 25, 2014

‘We want coaching’

A recent article in the FT by Maxime Boersma entitled ‘We want coaching,’ say high-fliers shows how perceptions of coaching have changed dramatically over recent years.

The Head of Learning and Development at a UK organisation describes how “Executive coaching is increasingly sought by senior leaders as a space where they can have reflective conversations about their work and be challenged on their thinking and approach.”

January 16, 2014

A unique leadership development opportunity

Picture1For those who follow my blog, you will know that my trip to Harvard in 2012 was significant for me and altered my views and approaches to leadership development. I also benefited from meeting an incredible international group of people with similar interests and aspirations. One such person is Annick Zinck (www.AZck.com).

I have the pleasure of collaborating Annick this June on ‘The Sail and Lead program 2014′ on Lake Geneva. It is a unique learning opportunity enabling participants to learn more about themselves and how they interact with others in situations where they are under pressure, with limited resources and in a changing environment. No sailing experience is needed as there will be two top-class sailing coaches working with the participants.

You can get more details on the programme by clicking here or contact me directly to chat through this unique learning experience.

October 7, 2013

The downside of expertise!

Over my life-time I have been on a journey of gaining expertise in the actuarial field, as an IT consultant, as an operations director and now as a leadership development consultant and coach. After-all, expertise gives credibility.

In my quest to learn more and know more, I never really considered the down-side of expertise – surely it can only be a good thing? This morning I was reading a review of a boorestricted_vision_by_popcorn_nut-d30syuzk called the ‘Reflective Practitioner’ by Donald Schön and I was reminded that expertise can actually restrict our thinking. It can narrow our vision. We expect that the challenge we are facing is the same one as the one we saw last week or last month with similar characteristics. In fact, if we have ‘over-learned’ what we know we can become ‘selectively inattentive to phenomena that do not fit’  our past experience .   The risk is that we misdiagnose the issue we are facing and presume that we know the answer.

Donald Schon describes a process of ‘reflection in action’.

‘The practitioner allows himself to experience surprise, puzzlement, or confusion in a situation which he finds uncertain or unique. He reflects on the phenomenon before him, and on the prior understandings which have been implicit in his behaviour. He carries out an experiment which serves to generate both a new understanding of the phenomenon and a change in the situation.’ (Schön 1983: 68)

I am often struck by the questions my kids ask. I accept so many things in the world which they question and that certainly challenges me. I am reminded here of the benefits of not accepting or presuming, but seeing each challenge we face with fresh eyes and ‘puzzlement’.

As an authority figure, we are typically expected to know the answers i.e. have the expertise. In leadership, our ability to ask insightful questions is so much more important so we can broaden our field of vision.

 

Image Source: http://fc00.deviantart.net/fs70/i/2010/288/c/1/restricted_vision_by_popcorn_nut-d30syuz.jpg

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.