At a recent coaching meeting, my coachee sat down and said he wanted to think out loud with me. He said nothing else then sat quietly. This was an unusual request, as the usual way we would begin our meetings would be for him to dive into a long update about what had been happening since we last met. And my usual response would be to let him talk for five minutes before interrupting and asking him what was on his agenda for the meeting. But this time he said what he wanted to do and…..stopped. I was taken aback. What was going on? So I asked him. What had given rise to this request? And what he told me was a story about something he had learnt from his 12 year old daughter which was revolutionising how he had decided to lead. Here is what he said….
During the recent Spring break he had gone away with his family and, because he and his wife had just had another baby, she was very involved with the new arrival and he had more time than usual to spend with his daughter. During a walk on an empty beach one day, he asked his daughter what she was enjoying at school at the moment. Instead of giving him an answer to his question, she said ‘Dad, don’t talk to me when I’m talking to myself. I’ll talk to you when I’ve finished’. Intrigued, they walked along the beach together in silence. Eventually his daughter said: ‘OK, I’ve finished my talk to myself. What did you ask me?’. By now my coachee was far more interested in what his daughter was doing when she talked to herself, than he was in his original question. So he asked her why she liked to do this. And her answer was: So I know what I’m thinking and I don't have to just think what everyone else tells me.
What this wise young girl had come to realise - earlier in her life than most people - is the increasingly vital skill of thinking for herself: not just adopting the latest trend, spouting the words someone else has worked on but working out her own reality. She realised that she was being bombarded with streams of other people’s thoughts, images, ideas and opinions…..Twitter, SnapChat, Facebook, WhatsApp….. meant her need to find her own voice, to know her own thoughts and speak her own views needed something else from her. In the emptiness of a long Cornish beach, my coachee realised that his daughter was giving him a way to operate that was very, very far from his usual method….but one that was essential for him as a leader.
In the conversation father and daughter then had together, he could see that the first thoughts about an issue or a question he faced was usually someone else’s thought - the conventional answer or analysis; he realised that the demands he allowed others to make on his time meant he rarely concentrated long enough on one issue - he found it hard to arrive at a solution or a point of view that would be genuinely his own, that would stretch the thinking of those around him and support them to arrive at sustainable or innovative solutions for their business. He realised he had people around him who only knew how to keep the routine going. Who could answer questions, but didn't know how to ask them. Who thought about how to get things done, but not whether they're worth doing in the first place. So we spent our coaching meeting, with my coachee putting in to practice the lessons he had learnt from his 12 year old daughter. An unusual but very effective coach.
So how do YOU make sure you can hear your own voice - and not just the voices of everyone else?