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Executive Coaching Results: Fate, trait or state?

Executive Coaching Results:

Fate, trait or state?

Many bosses leave staff disengaged, cold, and uninspired. Yet some leaders and executive coaches are able to secure performance from almost everyone. What explains the difference? What accounts for the difference in executive coaching results: fate, trait or state?

If you are in the field of leadership, you will have read or heard the various debates. Some people claim that leadership success is down to fate: the cast of the genetic, cultural, or family dice.

Were that true, then developing those with “the wrong” throw of the dice would be a waste of time and money. “Best leave them in unskilled operational level roles.” I am sure you have heard those words, more than a few times, or similar, used to dismiss a person’s potential, . “You can’t turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse.”

Since so many of the most effective and life transforming and humanity changing leaders having come from the wrong side of the tracks, it is abundantly clear that leadership cannot be put down to fate. At least not to genetic fate. Other forms of fate, possibly. We will come back to that. Fate seems not to be the sole determinant of executive coaching results, or of leadership performance.

Executive Coaching Results: Fate, trait or state?

What then of trait? Is it worth providing executive coaching for someone who doesn’t have the right traits?

Have you ever changed one of your traits? Almost everyone answers words to the effect of: “Yes, of course.”

If you have changed your traits in the past, can you change them in the future? The answer is, yet again, a resounding: “Of course.” However, there are a small number of people who will scream: “NO!” They believe that traits are genetic as well. That trait is fate. Is it?

Anyone who has children or has studied them will have noted from their own experience how soon the differences between children are visible. For example, one seems utterly unaffected by music and another is profoundly impacted. Such observations make us sure that our lives are hugely determined by fate. Faced with the certainty that such observations induce we can be forgiven for asking: are traits determined by fate?

In some regards, yes. In all regards no. This is the famous “nature vs nurture” debate, which strongly connected to its sibling, the “free will vs determinism” debate. Both are unresolved. And that is the point. If traits were a matter of fate, there would be no debate. The evidence would be conclusive. It is far from that. The figure attributing causality to nature or nurture changes with the latest research, and is complication by a phenomenon known as regression toward the mean. ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regression_toward_the_mean )

What doesn’t change is that BOTH nature and nurture play a part. Here is my take  on the debate (in an attempt to avoid rehearsing the entire area): The more physicality is required the more genetics seem to have the upper hand; the more the mind plays a part the more nurture seems to come out on top.

What does that mean when it comes to executive coaching results?

That almost everybody can improve with the right nurture. That trait can be developed regardless of genetic fate. Hmmm… that might go too far. Perhaps this is more true. Some people may be able to reach a higher peak in the development of any given trait by virtue of the advantages conveyed by genetic fate. BUT, what appears to be a head-start in some people because of their genetic fate may not be there, by virtue of the genetic regression toward the mean.

What are the implications of that? Selecting people for development because their parents had an ability may be completely counter-productive. Most of us will know people who had the best genetics any human could hope for, and the person seems to have completely missed out on whatever advantage fate was “supposed” to have bestowed upon them.

If fate cannot be relied on to equip someone with the necessary trait, what about state?

Before we explore the issues, let’s make sure we have a shared understanding of “state.”

Have you ever been angry? Of course! (Unless you suffer from a rare affective disorder.) Have you ever been certain something was a specific way when you were angry, and when you adopted your more usual perspective, your more relaxed mind-set, you could see very differently. What you thought with complete certainty, in anger, you later realised was completely wrong?

For most people devoid of terminal ego problems the answer is: “Yes, several times,” or maybe even, “Too many times!”

“State” is the mind-set or form of consciousness at any given time caused by a particular combination of mental, physical and emotion factors.” (Let’s not aim for a perfect academic definition- this is an applied field.)

How much does state determine executive coaching results?

If you were a skilled executive coach, and your mind was in a state of anger, when you were trying to coach someone in the skills of diplomacy, how effective would you be? Not very.

Does that mean there is no place for anger in executive coaching?

Some sports coaches were famous (infamous?) for what became known as “the hairdryer” (verbally challenging a sports person from such close proximity, with such heat and power that their hair could have been dried).

As all advanced people developers will know, some people ONLY respond to that kind of treatment. Fortunately, that is not behaviour that is acceptable in an executive coaching setting.

Back to the key point.

How much is state responsible for leadership performance?  Can a change of state induce dramatically different performance? Can executive A perform worse than Executive B simply because A and B are in different states? 

Yes, absolutely. You know this to be true from your own life, and from observing others.

If you have just had a bereavement, or a life changing set-back, are you going to be in the same state as normal? Of course not. Have you experienced a change of state impairing or enhancing your performance? Of course!

You know that state is hugely important in your performance. You have probably been “in the zone,” that state where the only thing going through your mind is what you are attending to, where your concentration is both absolute and effortless. You know how well you perform in that state.

State is HUGELY important in performance.

In fact, so important that it can create trait. “How?” you might very reasonably ask. Here’s what happens. You deliberately put yourself in a particular state to achieve a specific performance outcome. Every time that brings favorable results. Before long getting in to that state becomes more and more habitual. After more time you are no longer aware that you are in that state when carrying out the specific task. Favourable behaviours (physical and mental) are gradually generalised. Eventually, that state appears to you, and everyone else to be a trait. “Jenny is so calm under pressure. If there is a crisis you want her on your team!”

There are few better ways to adopt and refine a new trait than the start by adopting the state, turn the state into a habit, and that habit will shape fate. In which case the conclusion of this article will come as no surprise. Fate may not be genetically determined, it may be state determined, meaning, if you choose to adopt a state that can deliver the performance normally associated with a specific trait, you will eventually through the power of habit develop that trait.

We started out by asking:

Executive Coaching Results: Fate, trait or state?

Let’s offer a one sentence answer:

It appears that executive coaching results can be achieved by creating fate through trait by way of state.

If you want to develop your leadership performance, contact PsyPerform to receive a free development session with Prof Nigel MacLennan either face-to-face or by Skype.

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