Sunday 5 July 2020

Still learning (after all these years...)

Someone recently quoted the (possibly apocryphal) answer that Pablo Casals gave, in his eighties, to the question: 'Why do you still practise for 6 or more hours a day, when you are the greatest cellist of the twentieth century?' He (is alleged to have) replied: "I think I am beginning to get the hang of it..."

Having written that, I am hesitant to continue with the post I had planned: I may be a good coach, but I am not the Casals of the coaching world.  Nonetheless, the anecdote does speak to the point I wished to write about, so I will swallow my misgivings and proceed.

On the practicum session for the Leadership Team programme I am currently studying, we were in small groups and had to role play a scenario in which we were coaching the leader of a team in a difficult situation that had filled her with despair. 

I did a good job, I thought, in helping her both to articulate her current situation, but also to think of the future, identify where she and the team needed to get to, and (most importantly) re-discover a sense of hope. That then enabled her to come back to the present, and work out the first actions she could take that would share her hope with the team, get clarity and support she needed from her boss and so on.  We only had 20 minutes or so for the role play, and I felt that we had done a lot in that time. The others in the small group agreed; but as we reviewed the session, I realised that I had missed the point.

The brief for the exercise had been to help the team leader to start to co-create a team development plan for the whole team - and to discuss how to engage the team in that co-creation. The idea is to gain common understanding and agreement about the current situation and challenges, and also to agree the way the team want to work on addressing it through their own development journey.  That is the necessary foundation for a truly engaged approach that will weather the inevitable difficulties that such a learning journey will encounter.

And I had known that - yet I colluded with the team leader in a rush to action, with insufficient diagnosis, and with no thought given either to the whole journey, or to engaging the rest of the leadership in the diagnosis and planning.

This made me reflect, once more, on the conscious competence model of learning. That is, I had learned, in my head (from the teaching and examples presented by Peter Hawkins and David Clutterbuck on the programme) about the importance of that stage of the process; yet in practice, my habitual approach had taken over: I had played to my strengths; and that had gone well, except that I was doing the wrong thing. And what the conscious competence model does so well is not merely illustrate the problem, but also point to the solution: and that is practice. In order to turn the intellectual understanding I have acquired on the course into a reliable skill, I need to try it out, over and over again, until I get good at it.

And I am trying not to be too annoyed at myself for having to learn that lesson (again) through experience... but I suppose that if Pablo Cassals still felt the need for practise at the age of eighty-something, then I am in good company.

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