A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a proposal for a multi-billion dollar company seeking to develop its top leaders. Of course, the minute I hit “send,” I realized I had omitted a really important fact about my experience – to the point where it grossly understated my qualifications. In fact, it was so important that I just couldn’t believe I had missed it! Although I had a chance to rectify the situation, this reminded me how easy it is to overlook what you know.
I see the same things happen with my clients. They often overlook extremely valuable lessons and experiences from the past that can help them with what they’re wrestling with today. Their oversight may center on skills that they just don’t notice they have anymore. In other words, areas where they have reached the point of “unconscious competence.”
With the Newberry Leadership System for High Performing Women, I help my clients build critical skills to the point where they are second nature, to the point of unconscious competence. However, I also find myself helping my clients remember what they already know and how to apply it to what they face today.
Here’s a quick example. I recently coached a leader who has always been good at building a strong network of advocates. In fact, in the past it has helped her move up the corporate ladder very quickly. However, in the past two years, she has spent less and less time focusing on her network – to the point that she lost sight of its importance altogether. It wasn’t until she found herself in a political situation where she wasn’t supported, that she realized just what she had forgotten. That situation was the rude awakening she needed to jog her memory. In our coaching session, we talked through how to bounce back from the situation, leveraging her skills and experiences from the past (and she had many to tap into).
Another one of my clients found herself frustrated about all the unexpected issues popping up on a mission-critical project. She really couldn’t afford any delays. When we started to delve deeper, she realized that she had forgotten about an issue tracking and management approach and tool she had used on another project. By putting that back into play, she got the right information from her team – information to help her proactively anticipate and prevent potential problems.
So, the next time you find yourself dealing with a challenging issue, take time to ask yourself the following questions:
What is the underlying issue I’m struggling with?
Don’t get distracted by all the details, really focus on the core issue(s).
In the past, when have I encountered a similar situation?
Asking yourself this question will help you remember a past experience that may lend insight into how to approach the current situation.
What helped me work through that situation successfully?
What lessons did I learn that could apply here? This will help you remember key elements of what happened in the past, how you handled the situation, and what could be useful as you develop your approach to the current situation.
The more experience you have, the harder it is to remember it all. There is a lot of power in leveraging and applying what has worked in the past to situations you are working through today. (In fact, it’s called Appreciative Inquiry, and there are entire classes dedicated to it.) A good executive coach should have the skills to help you bring those valuable skills and experiences to the forefront. If you are not working with one, remember to keep these questions handy and use them the next time you find yourself in a tough situation.