Tag Archives: compassion

Coaching with Compassion vs. Coaching for Compliance


Week 5 talks about coaching with compassion (CWC) in contrast to coaching for compliance. In coaching for compassion, we move a person into Positive Emotional Attractor (PEA) by initiating dialogues about hope, compassion, mindfulness, or even playfulness. On the other hand, coaching for compliance is consciously or unconsciously leading someone over to Negative Emotional Attractor (NEA) and this occurs when we tell someone what to do, how to do things, and how to feel. In short, coaching for compliance begins with the assumption that something is not right and therefore is in need of “fixing”. While the underlying intention is good, by asserting our view of how someone should act or how he or she should be pushes them towards NEA. And as soon as they go into the NEA mode, the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is triggered and they become defensive and begin to shut down cognitively, perceptually and emotionally.

Interestingly enough, movement from PEA to NEA and vice-versa has been visually captured through fMRI scans. Dr. Boyatzis presented examples of how coaching with compassion (CWC) is key to leadership development and in creating resonant relationships. He described recent fMRI studies on coaching to the Positive Emotional Attractor (PEA) versus the Negative Emotional Attractor (NEA). For example, patients who experienced shared Positive Emotional Attractor (PEA) with their physicians showed increased treatment adherence for Type II Diabetics. In family businesses, a shared vision is also seen as key to predicting long term success and the same is true for IT managers and professionals where arousal of PEA (shared vision and positive mood) predicts effectiveness. It is also interesting to note that, fMRI studies show spending even just 30 minutes in a conversation about the PEA (i.e. talking about one’s vision or dream), activates regions of the brain associated with the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which promotes renewal and relaxation.

In small manageable amount, stress is beneficial to us because it can help us overcome daily challenges by giving us little boosts of energy and memory; it keeps us motivated and helps us accomplish tasks; physiologically, it can help protect our bodies from infection, and it is critical in arousing the fight-or-flight response necessary for survival. While we need a healthy dose of stress, modern life has afforded us more way more stress than necessary and we find ourselves overwhelmed which leads us to experiencing cognitive, emotional, perceptual and even physical impairment. The key then is for us to balance PEA and NEA in order to “survive and thrive”.

After learning the difference between coaching with compassion and coaching for compliance, I am struck at how much of the skills in CWC are transferrable in our daily lives, like a conversation to motivate someone to learn and change, or to get someone to do something or to influence another person’s thinking or action. In parenting for example, I tend to focus on the problem (i.e. Who made a mess? Why are all these books on the floor?) and less on the process (i.e. Where you playing with the toy house, cars, stuffed animals all the same time? Are you imagining that this is your castle?). Perhaps this is a ripe area where I can tap on the wisdom of CWC and motivate my kids towards PEA and then to a positive desirable behavior (i.e. cleaning up their toys). In coaching relationships, I could see CWC being used as a way to encourage reflection of how they envision their future career, rather than getting seeped into long discussions about one’s discontent and unhappiness in their jobs and trying to problem solve. I think the shift from the need to step in and resolve things to focusing on the process and the person is an important cognitive and emotional exercise particularly when our default seems to be “the fixer”.

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Resonant Leadership


In recent months, I’ve been reading a lot about the emergence of MOOC’s (massive open online courses) impact on education so I decided to sign up for a class called Inspiring Leadership through Emotional Intelligence taught by Dr. Richard Boyatzis, an expert scholar in the areas of emotional intelligence, behavior change, competencies and leadership. I’ve read some of Dr. Boyatzis’ work in graduate school and was very excited to take a class with him. Best of all it’s free, it’s online and something I can commit to as a busy mom of toddlers. In the next few weeks, I will be blogging about my reflections about the readings, discussions and insights gleaned from this class.

The class began with modules focusing on RESONANT LEADERSHIP. Drawing from the extensive research by Boyatzis and colleagues, the focus was on qualities of an effective leader (note the term effective not good) and how resonant leaders evoke feelings of hope and compassion. While the concept of emotional intelligence has received much attention in research and popular literature, this class provided deeper assertion that “leader’s emotional intelligence creates a certain culture or work environment. High levels of emotional intelligence…create climates in which information sharing, trust, healthy risk-taking, and learning flourish. Low levels of emotional intelligence create climates rife with fear and anxiety. Because tense or terrified employees can be very productive in the short term, their organizations may post good results, but they never last” (Goleman, Boyatzis & McKee, 2001).

First introduced in the book Primal Leadership, a “resonant” leader, is an individual who is in tune with him or herself and the people around them. These are leaders who foster a positive work space where creativity is thriving and productivity is increasing. These are individuals who are deeply self-aware and have a strong ability to create, foster and nurture a positive and emotionally intelligent workplace. Unfortunately, many of us succumb to work stress, having to deal with the complexity and ambiguity in the organization, managing daily crises, implementing unclear visions, executing difficult management or financial decisions and dealing with difficult colleagues and managers. Resonant leadership (and even navigating workplace or our own relational complexity) requires mindfulness, hope and compassion according to Dr. Boyatzis.

Mindfulness, as a concept used in this context, is drawn from both cognitive psychology and the Buddhist philosophy. It is being present and fully attuned to what is happening in the moment or what Donald Schön would describe as reflection-in-action. Perhaps pausing mid-task and asking ourselves: How do I feel about what I’m doing? Why am I doing it? How do other people in the room feel about this?

We know that one of the tenets of why adult learn according to Malcolm Knowles is that we need to attach relevance of an experience into our lives. That is what resonant leaders are good at- they help us find meaning and relevancy of what we’re doing in light of the larger picture and this in turn stimulates hope. Knowing that we are working and striving for something bigger and a having a clear vision of the future inspires hope and creates a sense of well-being and purpose.

Lastly, to be a resonant leader, one must genuinely care about others. The term compassion here is described as showing empathy and trust, and caring about people and not just the bottomline. A compassionate leader creates a healthy and positive workplace where they are willing to dialogue about difficult and uncomfortable issues, listen to their subordinates share about what works and what didn’t and why, putting themselves in other people’s shoes and seeing things from their lenses. When we feel we have a compassionate leader who has our back, we don’t want to let them down and we care back.

I would love to hear your thoughts and insights about resonant leadership. Have you experienced working for a resonant leader? If so, what makes them so effective and inspiring? On the contrary, what makes a toxic boss? How do we stop the cycle of toxicity at work so we don’t get sucked into that negativity and it doesn’t spill over to the home?