- By Ian Bradley
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A friend recently asked me about my practice in executive coaching. He was curious about what the major mental health problems the executives that I see in my practice face. He had in mind the typical collection of diagnostic entities such as depression, anxiety, or perhaps more behavioural deficits, such as, perfectionism or excessive self-criticism.
I replied that my typical client has none of those things. Instead they have tons of little problems, most of them not of there own making. That’s because I view my clients not in terms of diagnostic labels but with myriad, and often impossibly difficult, challenges.
Similarly, I view my background in Psychology as providing me with a wide spectrum of tools both to conceptualize, and tackle these challenges. In short, I draw-upon psychological research to solve work problems not to â€œcureâ€ executives. Psychology provides an extensive toolbox with to solve business or work problems. Let me provide you with one example.
A manager of a retail outlet wanted to send an under-performing sales person to another store to observe and learn from more experienced sales staff. In psychological terms, this type of learning is called modeling and its operation and effectiveness has been thoroughly studied in clinical psychology. Drawing upon this research, I was able to help my sales manager client in several ways. Firstly, I provided a common concept – learning through modeling- and as well as a subsequent vocabulary for his intervention. Then, I suggested several refinements including having the manager meet with the salesperson after each store visit to define in explicit terms what the inexperienced sale person learned. Research on modeling has revealed that more permanent skill acquisition occurs when the specific aspects of the desired model’s behaviour are identified and made explicit. In addition, to aid future recall, I suggested that the manager link the observed salesman’s behaviour to the overall retail mission of the store. In psychological jargon, we were using a deeper cognitive processing to facilitate long-term memory storage. Finally, we ensured that the sales skills observed were within the existing behavioural competency of the sales and aligned with theirown career goals.
This example of modeling provides but one small example of the richness of psychological research in providing executives with many creative and effective ways to crack the array of nuts they are presented with as daily problems.