Whilst enjoying my morning cappuccino in a coffee shop recently (coffee is inadvertently becoming a theme of our blog posts!), I happened to overhear a conversation on a nearby table. It seemed to be a job interview of sorts.
The “candidate” must have been applying for a position involving management/leadership of a team. During one section of the conversation the candidate was effusive regarding their desire and ability to empower team members with decision making responsibility, whilst also creating a “safe to fail” environment. This all sounded positive enough.
However, barely a couple of minutes later, the candidate elaborated on a past experience when a team member made a critical error on a project. They explained there was no choice but to remove the person from the project and take control of the process in order to “get the project back on track”.
Needless to say, my immediate thoughts centred on the misalignment between the earlier comments (espoused values) and the lived experience (behaviour). What happened to the empowerment and safe to fail environment? At the first sign of trouble, that all went out the window. Interestingly, the interviewer didn’t seem to pick up on this (or maybe they made a “mental note” without changing the flow of conversation).
This is not an unusual situation in coaching and the sporting environment. When the pressure comes on or errors are perceived to have been made, it seems a common response is to take back control (given it was actually “handed over” in the first place). As digital media has enabled increased access to coaching-related articles, information and people, “buzzword bingo” has also become a popular game. At times, and often still with the best of intentions, the values and beliefs espoused by coaches are incongruent with how they actually behave. Why is this?
Given the coach and their environment represent a “complex system” (here for our first post on complexity and here for HumanCurrent’s explanation), there could be many interacting factors at play that influence what a coach says and does. As one example, the de-contextualised classroom environment common in formal coach education may enable a coach to verbalise key topics, but limit transfer to the context of their coaching environment.
For those looking to enhance coaching effectiveness and the quality of learning environments, understanding these dynamics is critical in order to facilitate the emergence of functional patterns of behaviour. Whilst early days, it has been enjoyable exploring and applying methods related to this in our work in sport. We look forward to further learning and exploration as opportunities arise to apply these ideas in different contexts and help people be their best.