A systemic view on the skills and patterns that are equally active when one manages projects or teams or when one coaches clients or employees, and on the many bridges between the two professions

In order to consider collaborative skills in relationship, it is first necessary to be very clear about what collaborations aim to achieve.  The word means to co-elaborate or elaborate together.   This underllines that collaborations are not about just having good relationships, but about directing that relationship towards the achievement of a common project or goal.  Collaborations are in fact a triangulating relationship between two or more partners and a third pole represented by their common destination.  In effect collaborative partners are not face to face, but side by side, facing a common direction.  This is the function of collaborative partnerships. 

  • Example: Whenever personal partnerships such as couples do not have a common goals or project such as to raise a family, build a home, travel, etc. these relationships may gradually lose their meaning purpose.  Parners need to yearn towards a common goal in order to stay together.

To illustrate further, when lions are face to face, they will fight.  When the same lions are shoulder to shoulder, they will hunt together.  They then have a common goal.  The same can be said of professional partnerships, collaborations, teams and organizations.  We can often consider that poor relationships in partnerships and larger systems such as teams are  due do the fact that these are not primarily focused on achieving their goal or that they  have lost their purpose.  The partners are facing each other, engaging in relationships for the sake of relationship, but are not working together to elaborate a common project or achieve a collective ambition.  

The direct consequence of this fundamental criteria of collaborative partnerships is also that in order to achieve better relationships in teams and any other type of collaborative contexts, the best strategy is to get everyone concerned and the system as a whole to focus on achieving that partnership's or team's purpose or ambition.  Consequently, beyond just having good relationships, it is of the utmost importance for all concerned to develop the collaborative skills that help partnerships focus on achieving what really holds them together.

Beyond relational skills, collaborative skills focused on achieving goals are central in coaching.  The profession in fact rests on a wide number of skill sets that coaches make available to their clients in order to help them achieve their ambitions, goals, purpose, etc.  The same can of course be said of managers.

The purpose of this article is to provide a number of reflexions on the importance of coaching and management collaborative skills, and to introduce the online Metasysteme inventory on manager and coach collaborative skills and patterns.

Management, and/or coaching skills?

There has been, and still is much debate on the bridges, similarities and differences between two professions and corresponding professional postures: that of manager versus that of coach.  Many managers are indeed aware they somewhat coach their employees, teams and professional partners when they are conducting assessments, accompanying projects, discussing careers, attending meetings, helping to process emerging solutions, facilitating collective decisions, co-designing action plans and following-up on procedures, getting involved in negotiations or reconciliations, etc.

  • On a first, obvious level, professional coaching skills are in fact extremely useful in all communication fields commonly covered by managers. 
  • On a deeper level, a true coach posture made of respectful minimalism, supportive presence, challenging questioning, results-oriented focus, and openness to emerging solutions can also help a manager develop empowered delegation and collaborative environments, no matter the management context.

To be sure, directive and informative management styles are rather different from a truly minimalist coaching posture.  Although that can be debated, coaching is indeed said to be less than directive, sometimes not even informative. All in all however, it seems that management and coaching are much closer professions when one considers a much more modern collaborative management style or a truly delegating managerial context.  

  • Indeed, coaches perceive that their art consists in creating a safe and empowering space within which clients will be able grow and develop while focusing on achieving their goals.  One could consider that this exact definition can also apply to define empowered delegation in management.

Many managers, however, insist there are fundamental differences between management and coaching.   Very often, to prove their point, they will mention two stressful dimensions in which they feel coaches have a much lighter burden if not an easier time:

  • Unlike coaches, managers are responsible for results, and unlike coaches managers sometimes need to fire. 

This formal difference between the two professions may be obvious to some, and less than true to others.

  • First, as far as results are concerned, coaches are very concerned that their clients achieve measurable success. 

Coaches simply do not micro-manage, or replace client competency.  They do not direct clients who are to be considered mature enough to know what they need to achieve.  Coaching consists in being very challenging in a respectful and constructive way, without directing clients.  The main difference lies in the fact that coaches are always collaborative with their clients when many managers may choose to be directive, taking advantage of their organization's structural and hierarchical context. That, of course may often be less than productive, and even detrimental to the management relationship.

  • What may often be missing in management is the understanding that managers need to learn how to be much more respectfully collaborative in the way they accompany their employees. 

Indeed, collaborative, delegating and empowering managers know how to create a space of responsibility within which employees can engage to achieve results.  This main awareness underlines that delegating managers do not micro-manage their personnel by imposing their expertise.

  • Second as far as firing goes, coaches sometimes also decide to stop a non-productive client relationship. Sometimes also, coaching clients decide to severe an inappropriate or sterile relationship with a given coach. 

When performance in coaching is not up to par, when the coaching process is too slow or serves as an excuse to postpone, when coaches and clients agree to face the fact that they are not well matched, the relationship often may come to a premature end.  Depending on the situation, either the client or the coach may decide to stop the relationship, or both may agree on a positive way to manage their separation process, in a win-win fashion.

Consequently, just as in management contexts, coach-client relationships must sometimes end sooner than initial expectations contractually defined.  This occurrence needs to be faced by the coach and client in a positive way.  A practical agreement needs to clearly define the severance process, possible referral to other professionals, fee adjustments or reimbursements, etc.  Just as in managerial situations, the responsibility for a premature separation process should be equally shared, and everything should be done to ensure a win-win outcome.

At close scrutiny, one could conclude that positive, empowering management and professional coaching may be very similar arts, much more than apparent at first.  We could also conclude that in stressful conditions such as when goals are not reached, relationships become tense or when premature separations need to be arranged, both managers and coaches may slip into inappropriately directive, judgmental or gamy behaviors.

Focus on profiles or focus on skills?

Another similarity between coaching and management may be an excessive focus on personality types or on profiles, and a greater need to focus on behavioral skills.  

  • Note: One can believe that behavior is a consequence of personnality, in which case there isn't much one can do to change, because if we act the way we do, it is because of the way we are.
A totally opposite or complementary frame of reference that seems to be validated by neuroplasticity would have us be the result of our behaviors, or of our practiced skills.  Within this paradigm, the more one practices certain behaviors, or certain skills, the more one changes the way one is.  This point of view would reverse the habitual psycho-somatic frame of reference to develop a somato-psychic approach:  The more we change behaviors, the more we changes who we are.   As the saying goes, practice makes perfect, but practice also makes us lazy, or empathetic, or hyper-active, or intuitive, etc.  Practice makes us who we are, so we can practice different skills to become different professionals.
To apply the importance of learned behaviors to the correlations between coaching and management, there is a strong trend in coaching that underlines the need that to become a good coach, one needs to relentlessly practice specific coaching skills.  The same can be said of management.   Being a good manager is not a given that depends on personality, but is learned by relentlessly practicing good management skills.  In the same way as to become a good coach, anyone can learn to become an excellent manager, by learning how to display appropriate communication skills until they become "natural".  And it so happens that both good delegative management and good coaching rest on the same communcation skill sets.
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Management and coaching competencies and skill sets

Born just before the turn of the last century, coaching is a relatively recent profession.  One of the consequences of its youth is that much energy is deployed to define precisely what it is.  The debate on how it differs from management may in fact be part of that ongoing definition process.  Much is also said about coaching’s purpose, why the profession emerges in this time in the history of humanity, and what are the specific competencies that could serve to distinguish coaching professionals from other support professions.

On this later question, one could very easily argue that there is no difference between the skill-sets used by professional coaches and those used by enlightened, delegating managers.  A close study of the International Coach Federation’s twelve key coach sets of competencies (including focus on ethics) will not easily differentiate coaching from management, much to the contrary.  To illustrate, these skill-sets could be reduced to four main groups of competencies that are common both to managers when relating with employees and to coaches when accompanying clients:

  1. Alignment on ethics, on foundations, on purpose and direction, on responsibilities, with agreements or contracts focused on expected relationship and professional outcomes, deadlines, processes and procedures, etc.
  2. Focus on content, informational sharing and debating, understanding context, operational, allocating financial resources and other means, evaluating return on investment, defining technical details, etc.
  3. Presence to human needs and relational issues, motivations, developmental aspirations, personnel growth and development, conflict resolution, personal evaluation and recognition, social skills and competency, etc.
  4. Focus on results, measurable achievements, action-plans, follow up, measures of results, future steps, celebration, closure, separation, etc.

Whether considering coaching or management, these sets of professional competencies could be expanded just as they could be divided into five, fifteen or twenty-two coherent ensembles.  It is simply a question of how much detail one wants to consider.

Often, these and other sets of competencies are presented in a logical order.  In a standard coaching or management context centered on achieving a particular goal or project, for example:

  • The manager and employee or the coach and client first need to align and set the foundations of their common collaboration, project or concern. 
  • Once that is done, their next logical step is for clients and coaches to explore and analyze their agreed-upon collaboration's informational and technical dimension. 
  • As these first constructive steps unfold, the relational dimension of their partnership will evolve and their capacity for intimacy will often become a decisive factor in their collaborative effectiveness. 
  • And as the partnership achieves its goals, coaches, clients, employees and managers will need to consider successfully measuring their results, concluding their venture and designing other futures, together or separately.

The systemic unitary perspective on management and coaching skills

A systemic fractal-type of perspective could also stipulate that all coaching or management skills are to be considered as one completely inter-related skill set.  Indeed, to be really effective, each of the four skill-sets presented above, or each of the eleven ICF sets of competencies could in fact be considered to include all the others in a fractal way.  At any time when coaching or managing, an truly attentive professional needs to be deeply present to the fact that any specific skill-set could automatically include all the others skills, as needed.

  • Example: In order to appropriately co-establish coaching or management alignment in any truly collaborative relationship, all the other coaching, management or partnering skills need to be simultaneously present and sometimes even displayed.  This will typically concern listening, trust, enlarging frame of reference, focus on practical action, direct language, powerful questioning, focus on practical results, etc. 

Consequently for a systemic coach, no one skill can ever stand alone.  At that deeper level, coaching and management skills also have no sequential order.

This clearly means that in a systemic perspective, it would be a simplification if not an error to present truly professional coaching or management skill-sets in a linear fashion, and to number these from one to four, ten or twenty.  Although a simplified and linear approach may be useful for logical reasons or teaching purposes, one could construe that masterful systemic management and coaching rest on one single posture that necessarily includes all the professional competencies or skill sets, all the time.

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Management and coaching patterns

Whenever a coach or manager is observed for a very short length of time, however, one can rapidly perceive preferred behaviors, attitudes, skill-sets, linguistic choices, areas of interest, etc.  Even over a few seconds, observation reveals that each manager or coach has his or her specific systemic footprint or pattern.  Paradoxically, personal patterns can include positive aptitudes that may be over-indulged to a fault, and shortcomings that may occasionally prove to be very useful.  These personal patterns, however, are there and can be identified, evaluated or assessed and when needed, modified.

It follows that any personal behavioral pattern displayed by a manager and/or a coach in the course of a short coaching session can provide specific insights on the behavioral patterns and preferences that manager/coach may display in the course of other longer, non-related sequences, elsewhere in his or her professional and personal life.  Consequently:

  • A heightened awareness of anyone’s skill appropriateness and/or avoidance patterns in short interactive sequences such as a coaching session or meeting can provide a systemic awareness of equivalent behavioral patterns deployed in other much larger sequences, in other contexts. 
  • Beyond systemic pattern awareness, any modification in one's appropriateness and avoidance patterns in shorter interactive sequences can also help one initiate equivalent changes in behavior patterns deployed in other much larger life and professional contexts.
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Shared systemic partnership or collaborative patterns

"Likes attract likes", goes the saying.  In a systemic frame of reference, criteria that are commonly attributed to one person can be considered as equally belonging to the relationship or partnership in which that person is participating.

For example:

  • If someone feels distrustful in a team, one could construe that distrust exists within the team.  The team's generalized distrust is just being felt or voiced by one of the team members.
  • Likewise, a sad or a depressive child in a family may (also) be expressing someone else's or the entire family’s unexpressed or un-assumed sadness or depression.

Consequently in systems thinking, criteria habitually allocated to one or another part of a larger system can just as well be allocated to all the parts or to the system as a whole.  Consequently, as a systemic coach and/or manager, one may come to realize that we attract clients and/or professional partners who are capable of tuning into each other very well.  Managers, coaches and their partners display similar issues and have similar skills. They have resonating behavioral shortcomings and may even display equivalent avoidance patterns with respect to implementing those skills.  Systemic awareness and assessment allow for a much more inclusive frame of reference.

  • Indeed, a systemic manager or coach should know that when their professional partners repeatedly display a given skill-set or a lack thereof, they are often offering an opportunity for that manager or coach to also develop themselves in the same fields.

Concretely, we therefore suggest managers and coaches assess themselves to become aware of their personal management and coaching patterns, considering that these provide feedback that could well concern the larger contexts within which they relate.  Personal patterns often rest on behaviors that are displayed by all the members of collaborative relationships established with partners, in networks, in teams and organizations, in family, and elsewhere.  In this sense, responsibility in systems is always totally shared by all the system members.  In a systemic sense, the evolution of one member in a system will automatically affect the evolution of all the others.

Linguistic collaborative indicators

Behavioral patterns are fractal in the systemic sense of the word.  In other words, the same patterns can be observed in very short and much longer sequences, and they are repeated in a variety of ways, in very different contexts. When it comes to studying behavioral patterns, one will often be surprised to observe how each person, manager or coach is inherently coherent in everything he or she does or says.  To start with an easy example, consider a person who would simply say:

  • “Tell me, what’s your name”. 

The above linguistic form indicates a progression from a first directive statement: “Tell me”, followed by an informative request: “What’s your name?”  This linguistic form reveals that this speaker's systemic pattern is an introductory directive behavior followed by an informative request.  This simple pattern can be expected to be favored in everything that person may undertake, whenever shopping, managing, coaching, or playing tennis. One could consequently construe that this person would lead a team meeting sequence or a one-on-one interaaction by first being directive and then requesting information.

The above form completely differs from the following:

  • "Hi! I'm Joe!  Who are you?" 

This linguistic form reveals a much more spontaneous peer interactive pattern.  It opens with an invitation to relate, follows with an informal offering and ends with a question. The three short sentences also illustrate a progression from one word, to two, to three.  The pattern demonstrates the capacity to give before requesting an equivalent informational output from the partner.  This simple linguistic pattern also provides a number of systemic indications of how that speaker initiates and then develops personal, professional and recreational relationships. It is an illustration of the most direct and dynamic, peer to peer type of interaction, most conducive to creating an open and free-flowing type of interaction.

To offer another very different example, consider a more welcoming if not pleasing and outwardly relational opening statement such as:

  • "Good morning! I'm really happy to meet you, and would like to meet you." 

This phrase indicates that the person pronouncing it is an outgoing extravert who is genuinely interested in others on the one hand, and who is well versed in expressing to his or her personal needs, on the other.  The focus is clearly on establishing a pleasant relationship, and the request is formulated as a personal conditional need, to which the other is expected to provide an answer.  The probable nature of the future relationship 's pattern is announced.

The above examples illustrate that when listening with a systemic ear, one becomes rapidly aware that many such linguistics patterns are immediately apparent in short introductory phrases and throughout a lengthier dialogue.  Linguistics display very specific or personalized relational forms that any given person applies to much larger management, coaching and life contexts.  

More complex linguistic pattern analysis includes attention to choice of words and categories of words, choice of verb tenses, adverbs and adjectives, choice of sentence rhythms and punctuations, patterns of thinking, feeling and action, choices in values and emotional content, etc.  Consequently sharp systemic awareness of a given person's management or coaching patterns can start with a detailed awareness of that person's linguistic patterns and prefferences.

  • Example: A coaching client announces: "I would like to start preparing a possible future project".

This short goal-oriented sentence reveals a number of hesitant behaviors on the speaker's or client's part.  "Would like" is a conditional that can well be replaced by a more assertive "want".  "Start the preparation" is as redundant an expression as "prepare the begining" or "begin the initiation".  It seems to focus on accumulating prerequisites rather than on just getting started.  "Future project" may also reveal postponing strategies. 

Of course the above observations could be construed as judgmental.  The point is not that a coach or manager should revisit client or personnel linguistics in order to peg the speaker.  That would amount to trying to modify a symptom rather than dealing with the issue.  Nor should a manager coach attempt work on the underlying reasons for client or collaborator hesitancy. That could lead to psychological realms and therapeutic work.  When a coach hears such an introduction, the immediate question is what practical strategy will best accompany this person to rapidly achieve their desired outcomes?

  • To give other examples of patterns revealed by linguistics, one can focus on a person's or groups time management, decision-making, information-sharing, etc. process in very short dialogues or discussions.  From these one can very rapidly extrapolate how that person or group manages time, makes decisions, shares information, etc. in many other contexts. 

Furthermore, linguistic attention very quickly reveals if a person is rather means oriented or goal focused.  If a group is collaborative, power plays, is strategic or action oriented, favors complacent relationships or challenging results, etc.  The fact is that careful attention to interactions in the course one team meeting can reveal as much pertinent information as much more time consuming 360° questionaires, sociological studies and one-on-one interviews.

Linguistic observation and assessment rests on the systemic awareness that preferred personal or group linguistic patterns are excellent indicators of that person or group's preferred behavioral skills, avoidance strategies, interactive patterns, existential issues, etc.  Linguistics also provides excellent indicators of underlying systemic frames of reference. 

This illustrates that systemic listening and manager or coach presence to linguistic patterns can help perceive what the speaker often enacts in many different realms of personal and professional life.  Also, when a person or group evolves in time, their linguistic patterns also change to reflect their evolution, also in a fractal or systemic way.

Of course, understanding linguistic patterns is just one area to which systemic managers and coaches can pay careful attention.  It is approached here to provide specific examples of how important patterns are in systemic coaching and systemic management.  Though linguistic indicators are central in relationships that heavily depend on auditive skills, such as in meetings and phone conversations, linguistic listening skills also help confirm other behavioral patterns in all other face-to-face and collective management and coaching situations. 

Note that our work in this area has led to the design of a short twelve-question questionnaire that can provide managers and coaches with a very precise self assessment of their behavioral patterns, and with a number of concrete options to improve these de become more effective in their professions.

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Other systemic resources for managers and coaches

Do not hesitate to use the Manager-Coach Patterns questionnaire provided on this website as a resource in systemic coaching and management. Open an account, and get a short "freemium" profile, and then decide if you want to purchase the 15+ page report on your preferred management and coaching patterns.

You can also ask your individual and/or team clients or employees to answer the questionnaire and provide you with a copy of their reports

  • To co-define their systemic coaching or management needs.
  • To become aware of/have a dialogue on common systemic patterns/collaborate in order to grow and develop skills together

Other articles on this website (list on the right side of this page) that provides numerous original perspectives and tools on systemic coaching and management

The "Alain Cardon MCC" YOUTUBE English playlist likewise provides numerous short videos on systemic coaching and management

Should you wish to acquire KINDLE texts on the principles of systemic coaching, please consult: KINDLE

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