Leadership Coaching – Sequences and pattern interruption
My name is Sari van Poelje and I’m an expert in business innovation. I help businesses innovate more quickly than they innovate their products. And one of the things I do for that is coach leaders. I’ve been doing this for 33 years and every year I think what is it that I do? Can I do it better? What can I add into this to accelerate the process? And I figured out that actually I only do and focus on three things: silences, stories and sequences.
I want to focus on sequences now. What is it that we mean by sequences? I mean a pattern of behaviour, of thinking or feeling that leads to a known outcome. So it’s kind of like going: “dat da de dat da…” and someone else goes: “dat da!” That’s a sequence and it’s so inbred that you do it automatically.
Our responsibility as coaches is to help interrupt patterns because as soon as behaviour is automatic you know people aren’t really learning anything, but repeating patterns that have worked in the past.
So how do you distinguish sequences? How do you identify them? What I use for that is transactional analysis. TA is a psychological theory that was developed by Eric Berne in the 50s and it is still useful today.
The great thing about TA is that nearly every concept describes a pattern. And because our job is to be pattern interrupters, what better theory can you have than one that distinguishes patterns.
So one of the kinds of patterns that we talk about in TA is ego states. Ego states are kind of the building blocks of your personality. The definition of ego states are that they contain patterns of thinking and feeling linked to patterns of behaviour. We distinguish three types of ego states: parent, adult, child.
The Parent ego state is the ego state that you’ve learned or taken over from your parents. For instance if I hold out my hand to you and I say how do you do people will usually take my hand. That’s a parental introject or parental behaviour pattern.
We also talk about Child ego state. Child patterns of thinking and feeling linked to behaviour have helped you survive your childhood. For example let’s say I notice when I get into a group I feel a little anxious. I realize that this anxiety for bigger groups comes from when I grew up in these other countries, in unknown places. As an expat that actually helped keep me safe. It’s just not so happy to feel anxious nowadays though.
We also talk about Adult ego state, where we have thinking and feeling linked to behaviour which is fitting for the here and now, with the competencies we have today. These might be patterns of problem solving or patterns of thinking or patterns of feeling that actually help you find options in today’s world.
When I do leadership team coaching I look to see which ego state they are actually talking from. Are they talking from an Parent, Adult or Child.. Because if they’re talking from Adult they’re well connected to the here and now. If I hear people talk from Parent or Child I know they’re probably in a rubber band to the past.
As a pattern interrupter it pays to pay attention to ego states.