How Can A Bottle of Champagne Change Your Leadership Style?
My name is Sari van Poelje and I’m an expert in business innovation. I’m the director of two businesses One is called the Intact Academy where I train coaches and consultants from absolute beginners to supervisor level. The other business is Team Agility where I help businesses innovate their business more quickly than their products..
I do a lot of systemic work where I help large scale change to happen and I do a lot of work on teams, but I also do a lot of work in executive coaching. And one of the things in executive coaching is helping people to change their stories. We can’t change events because events are always in the past. But we can help people change the stories around the events. It’s the interpretation of events that often hurts.
Telling New Stories
One of our jobs as executive coaches is to interrupt these patterns and to help our clients create new stories using transactional analysis (TA). We’ve talked about people being made up of ego states in previous articles. Eric Berne, the founder of TA, talked about Parent, Adult and Child ego states, and the structure of personality. In a previous article we looked at the structure of ego states, with an archive of drawers that you open that contain millions of files, and you get to choose which files to use. We talked a little bit about how you use these patterns in communication to regulate intimacy. Within TA we also talk about transactions. That’s where transactional analysis comes from. We analyze transactions.
People can communicate from any ego state. They can communicate from Critical Parent, don’t do that, or from Structuring Parent, we have 20 minutes, what do you want to do in that time? I can transact from Nurturing Parent, what can I do for you, what do you need from me? I could transact from Adult – what happened then? Do you know the facts? How many? When? What do you want to achieve today? Or we could work from a Rebellious or Adapted Child, If you wouldn’t believe anything they tell you what would you be doing? Or we could invite the Free Child, if you would really go inside and realize what you need and what you miss right now, what would you be asking for?
These are all ways of transacting which we use in executive coaching. Some people wonder if we should preferably transact from Adult. And the answer is: no I don’t think so. If we would transact all the time as Adults, ask for facts, go into problem definition, and keep people only in the here and now, we would probably have a satisfying but very boring kind of executive coaching where people actually only access the things they already know.
I could ask my client if they have a problem, if they have this often and keep asking for the known value system – what do you do and with whom do you do it. They might be able to find a little bit of solution for the problem but probably not something that’s lasting. So I always think what can I use it to create a working alliance and really to help resolve problems longer term to create a sustainable solution for the client?
You Don’t Always Have To Transact Adult to Adult
They really need to delve into different ways of transacting, in different ego states, because each ego state has a piece of the puzzle. Each ego state knows something different about the same problem which could lead to an innovative solution. Each ego state has a different perspective of thinking, feeling and behaviour which could help them resolve the problem.
Part of what we do in executive coaching is interrupt a clients normal pattern or way of functioning. With executives their normal way of functioning is usually Critical Parent and Adult, so we interrupt and invite them into more exploration of other ego states. What is in the adapted Child, what is in the free Child, what is in the Nurturing Parent that you’re not using today which could help you interrupt the pattern of thinking feeling and behaviour that you usually use, and that is getting you into trouble?
A client told me he’d been a leader for 20 years in a production setting, but he was getting a lot of criticism. People didn’t like working with him anymore. This man had never had coaching. He had never taken the time to really think about himself and to develop a reflective capacity. We talked about what he was doing and the way he transacted. I asked him what he did when under stress, for example when something goes wrong in the production line. How he talks to people.
He said: Well, I tell them what to do to correct the problem. Which is what a lot of leaders do. To be fair they’re very good at problem solving. From research we know leaders take a decision every two minutes.
So then I asked what else he could use instead of working so hard himself. He said, Well I could ask questions. The predominant myth amongst executives is if they question their people when they know the answer it will take longer. The truth of the matter is in the short term it might take longer. But in the long term: they won’t come back so it’ll save you time.
We trained his ability to ask questions, with the Nurturing Parent’s intentions and Free Child energy behind it. Allowing people freedom to explore or make mistakes but asking still from Adult, but in a different way, with a different intention. So, instead of telling people what to do (critical Parent Adult) he started practicing with this new style of Nurturing Parent and Free Child questioning.
Try it, be curious, see what happens…
I wanted to energize this guy. So I said: You’re going to try this for three months. If after three months it doesn’t work I owe you a bottle of champagne.
He went for it. He made notes about the transactions he did, the way he talked to his employees and he realized that he was the Critical Parent a lot of the time. He started to interrupt himself, and really use different ego states to transact. He started experimenting with questioning, reaching out through curiosity and creativity. And that was OK.
He didn’t dare at the beginning to use a lot of Nurturing Parent. But as time went on he started to ask people questions like, What do you need from me to be able to solve this problem? And he realized after a while that it saved him a lot of time. It was a sustainable change that he encouraged in his employees. Needless to say I won the champagne!