‘I know how to ….. but I don’t really want to’
Updated: Mar 26
A reflection on a recent ‘learning miracle’. I conducted a day of group coaching with 5 executives in a business school program. Around 3 weeks later, I had a follow-up individual coaching call with each of them. Charles (pseudonym) said in the call that he was amazed in witnessing how 3 other members have changed after the group coaching day. In another call, Sandy (pseudonym) expressed repeatedly her excitement on how she became better in getting her message across by speaking less and more slowly. She also gave detailed description on her changed behaviors were well received in her global offsite meeting.
The magnitude of change was exceptional.
If it was just one of them making such rather drastic change, I would say I was lucky. Perhaps Charles was just unconsciously pleasing and colluding me a less pushy coaching call. Perhaps Sandy had been on the edge of change before the day, and the group coaching was just ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back’.
But we had a few of them making exceptional changes. Why? On reflection, the magic is probably around the following factors:
Open program – To start with, majority of the participants paid considerable sum of fee (by themselves instead of being sponsored) and effort to enroll into the program. This is very different from those programs which participants were reluctantly ‘invited’ to join because they are ‘talent’ or even because the program is ‘mandatory’.
Pre-coaching orientation – The professor has spent an afternoon with them before the group coaching orienting them into the ‘adaptive’ space. I have to say that he has successfully got them out of the expectation to be told of technical solutions.
Psychological Safety – We spent the morning of the group coaching day on personal disclosure. The process is well designed and I think I ran it reasonably well. This benefited a great deal to the afternoon sense-making on their individual 360 reports.
Feedback with Concrete and Comprehensive Evidence – The afternoon process made each participant facing their respective and detailed 360 reports together. We did it in a way that they cannot avoid the content consciously or unconsciously. And thanks to the morning, they went through the afternoon together with good receptivity.
Peer – As Sandy pointed out, she managed to change probably because she witnessed how the others were also working through their own struggles. This is both relieving and motivating.
My being – I suspect my orientation was helpful as well. Somehow I adjusted the balance between being supportive and challenging. Putting more effort on psychological safety.
Yet, I am more amazed with another layer of reflection – they made change without any input on techniques and skills! This reinforces my belief that the key to behavioral change is more about ‘will’ rather than ‘skill’. This is especially the case for senior learners who have considerable working experience and been through countless ‘training courses’, reading, videos or advices from others. They own a great deal of conscious and tacit knowledge.
In another word, when learning does not happen, it is less about they do not know how but more about they do not want to, consciously or unconsciously. And so, why another training course with 135 slides and thick binders?
Or in a ‘so-what’ angle, whilst there is always limited resources on learning / development intervention, the emphasis should be put on enhancing the willingness to make change…. like considering the list above.