Coaches Tip #6 – Listen Like a Catalyst

Volumes have been written about how important it is to motivate and persuade others, but persuasion alone cannot create sustained engagement. If people’s motivation depends heavily on a leader’s pep talks, carrots, and sticks, the organization will founder. People’s desire to perform needs to be intrinsic and self-sustaining. A coach can amplify a person’s potential for superior performance by first listening to them and then connecting them with resources that bring out their best work.

In Leadership Agility, Bill Joiner and I present 5 levels of mastery for agile leadership. In the first two stages (Expert and Achiever) leaders are the heroes of their own leadership story. They want to be recognized for knowing the answers or leading the charge. We named the third stage “The Catalyst” because leaders at this stage listen with markedly less ego involvement, and the effect on the listener is “Catalytic.” Leaders at this stage (and their followers as well) are relieved to discover they don’t need to have all the answers. Finding merit in another’s point of view, you are persuadable and therefore ultimately perceived as trustworthy, charismatic, and persuasive.

Here’s an exercise that will help you develop these qualities. The more you bring the spirit of appreciation into the following inquiry, the more engagement you will engender.

There are three things to remember:

  • People sustain their motivation when their work engages their sense of mastery, autonomy, and purpose. (Read Dan Pink’s Drive)
  • People are already motivated. They already have their likes and dislikes, their deeply held values and beliefs. To be fully engaged, they need to connect their values and beliefs to their roles and tasks.
  • People respond to specific phrases and images that are meaningful to them and move them to take action.

Given all of the above, here’s the tip to listen like a Catalyst. This exercise is based on Mark McKergow’s excellent work in Solutions Focus. At first, practice with a colleague or friend.

Tip: Listen Like a Catalyst

  1. Ask your counterpart to tell you about a time, a “shining moment,” when they felt engaged and fulfilled. They might describe a situation in which they made excellent use of their natural gifts.
  2. After they describe it, ask them what was most rewarding about that experience. Then ask them what else about it was rewarding. Keep asking until they feel they have named all the ways.
  3. After listening closely to what they say, offer some observations about their talents. You might say, “You seem like a person who… [tell them in what way they seem talented and/or capable].
  4. Then ask, “How could you get more of that [rewarding experience] in your life/work?” Ask until they’ve named all the ways they can think of.
  5. Finally, ask: “Where are the seeds of…[having more of that in your life/work]…present right now? What’s already in motion that could bring more of this into your life/work?” And “what is the next small step you can take right now to make those seeds grow?”

This often leads to conversations about how they can redesign and reinvigorate their work. In some cases, you may find this person is in a role that uses very little of what intrinsically motivates them. If that’s the case, the discussion may turn to examining their career path and their role in their organization.

In any event, these questions are catalytic. Asking them will undoubtedly put people in motion.

Remember: have someone ask you these questions before you try them out on someone else. Being on the receiving end of these questions will let you know how powerfully transformative they are.