Expanding your bubble

Did you know that your bubble needs expanding? “What, my bubble?” you might ask. “What on earth is my bubble and why in heaven would I want to expand it?” These are questions I raised when I began to explore the field of executive training and coaching.

Companies send their employees on training courses and assign top staff an executive coach to make good people perform even better. Improvement means doing something different from what they have done before. That means change. Yet people are highly change resistant. They usually act from within their comfort zone. They take the same commuting route to work every day. They eat the same variety of foods. They have the same basic circle of friends. They have gotten into a little groove which is their core comfort zone. “But when you’re asking people to improve you are necessitating that they do something different which involves risk,” said Dr. Greg Story, President of D.C. Training Japan (Dale Carnegie). Dr. Story added, “People avoid that and you rarely see improvement happening in an organic fashion.”

To be effective change-masters, executive trainers and coaches must act like the King in the story of the “Blind Men and the Elephant”. In the story, a group of blind men touch an elephant to learn what it is like. Each one feels a different part, but only one part. The one who touched the leg said, “It is like a pillar.” Another man who had touched its ears said, “The elephant is like a husking basket.” Similarly, he who touched its trunk or its belly talked of it differently.  When the men took to arguing their position, it took a King to point out that all were at least partially correct, yet all were wrong. All were limited by the fundamental human condition of interpreting the world from the limits of our own personal experience.

Within that framework, the trainer or coach’s job is to create an environment of experiential self-discovery that leads to “little white bulb” moments for participants. “These are the ‘Ah-ha!’ moments you experience when you hear, read or see something that resonates with you,” said Dr. Story.

Chris Lamatsch is a Tokyo based executive coach. He believes coaching involves candidates learning about themselves and how to do something different that provides a result that gets senior executives where they want to go. C. Lamatsch works to achieve what he calls the big “A”. The big “A” is what the candidate says are the results he wants. It may be anything from increased revenue, to building a team. The little “a” is the agenda the coach has in every session. The coach is responsible to make sure the priorities the candidate is focusing on are going to end in one of those results the client wants. The coach must string all those little “a’s” together so the participant receives the big “A”.

But here is the thing: Those little “a’s” need to be discovered by the participants themselves. “I’ve been in Japan a long time,” said C. Lamatsch adding, “But I don’t try to give my experience about what I’ve learned to my clients. Rather, I take that person from where they are right now and move them one step forward; what’s the next piece of understanding that they need to know? I may know the next step, but that’s not the point. The client needs to come up with their own realizations of what is appropriate. For instance, if I’m working with somebody who’s just come into the country, I see a different kind of world then that person sees. I could dump everything I know onto him about how to work effectively. But that person may not be approaching the same issues. As human beings were very good pattern makers. Those patterns are based on prior experiences. The tendency is always to assume that the pattern you see is an accurate interpretation of reality. What the coach tries to do is to suppress that pattern and not focus on the experience that comes to mind.”

The Dale Carnegie method encourages self-discovery through interaction. “We don’t have a heavy plastic binder gathering dust on the shelf, unopened, and forgotten,” said Dr. Story adding, “When we have data download, we didn’t create that world. Someone else created that world. You don’t own it. That’s why you can’t remember it.” When participants finish a Dale Carnegie class, they can put what they have learned straight into operation. Dr. Story recounted, “One guy was complaining that he couldn’t get along with his boss. He said, ‘My boss and I weren’t on the same wavelength. I was in despair. Then I took the (Dale Carnegie) course. I used certain principles I learned, and you can’t believe it! My boss took me to lunch. He never takes any one to lunch but he took me to lunch. Now we have this great relationship.'”

AMT Group’s executive training program also involves learning through interaction. Each candidate’s communication skills are assessed by 3 of AMT’s experts. Candidates then receive a snapshot of their strengths and weaknesses. They are also videotaped in one-on-one interviews and in case-study interactions with other participants. Each candidate can then see for themselves why their score on assertiveness, for instance, might be low and take appropriate corrective measures. AMT Group’s President Andrew Silberman said, “when there is buy-in from the candidate…. they reach their own conclusions about the steps they need to take to improve. Then the outcome is much better.”

Trainers and coaches draw on past experience to develop effective training techniques. Dale Carnegie has been in business for 100 years. Building on the principals of its founder, the firm draws upon the collective experience of their trainers in 86 countries. AMT Group has been developing training methods in Japan for the past 20 years. A. Silberman recently published a book on the subject entitled Get a G.R.I.P.. C. Lamatsch has been practicing in Japan the evidence-based executive coaching techniques he acquired at Fielding Graduate School in Santa Barbara almost a decade ago. Such experiences give trainers and coaches the needed tools to address the specific issues they confront, be they emotional intelligence, personality, performance or cross-cultural. A newly arriving manager from overseas may, for instance, interpret Japanese people who are often less verbal, less vocal, and less willing to give their opinion, as being shy. But that’s the cultural norm in Japan. People aren’t as vocal about their opinions. “Part of the trick is to understand the problem and understand which tool to use,” said C. Lamatsch adding, “Then, having studied the tool well enough, by going through the process of using that tool you can come up with the result that you want. That’s how I look at my work. I have a tool bag. I can pull out the proper tool. And I can use that tool in a way that is evidence-based so that tool is effective.”

C. Lamatsch recounts his experience with one candidate who was a Chief Information Officer: “The feedback he was getting was that, ‘he was like a robot, making quick opinionated decisions.’ He wanted to be more reflective, to develop his team and to improve his own people skills. So he decided to banish the word process from his vocabulary. He said, ‘I don’t want to hear that word again. Let’s not talk about that anymore. I want to talk about expanding the bubble, to expand myself beyond my capabilities into something new.’ So together they banished the word process. Anytime one or the other said it, they would catch each other. It really became about how he developed himself into something new. Neither of the two really knew where they were going with it. It just started to expand. It took on different dimensions into what that meant. Through the process of muddling through, the CIO learned about himself. He saw the effects of what he was doing, and that transformed into better relationships. He started interacting with people at a senior level which he wasn’t doing before, and expanded his entire whole perspective of the business rather than remaining within his own narrow technical IT world.”

If you wish to expand your own bubble, take note that the field is unregulated in Japan. Anybody can call themselves an executive trainer or coach. Therefore, ignore the marketing hype. Before engaging a firm or individual, check their references.  Do they practice evidence-based techniques? How many years have they been practicing? Where did they learn their trade? Realize your choice will be difficult to make because the profession practices soft skills. There is a bit of magic to the process.  Even trainers and coaches don’t always know why their methods are successful. Finally, choose to work with someone you like. If you don’t resonate with that individual, don’t work with them.

  1.   Dr. Greg Story, President, D.C. Training Japan K.K. 501, 5F Akasaka 2-chome Annex, 2-19-8 Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo 107-0052 www.dale-carnegie.com
  2.  Chris Lamatsch, Managing Director, Chris Lamatsch Consulting, 17-11-503 Mamedo-cho, Kohoku-ku, Yokahama 222-0032 www.lamatsch.net
  3. Andrew Silberman, President and Chief Enthusiast, AMT Group, Musee Kojimachi B201, Kojimachi 6-4-9, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 102-0083  www.amt-group.com

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