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Home » Blog » Coaching Matters with Ian Paterson: Coaching- A Tool for Deeper Exploration & Development

This time on Coaching Matters, we had Ian Paterson on the panel. With Coaching Matters we aim to bring you world-class coaches who also have an interesting alternate life that is very inspiring and adds tutelage for those with a Coach’s heart.  

Here are the highlights of Ian’s Session:

  1. Using The Leadership Circle Profile to develop the courage in leaders to grow and develop in the VUCA world complexities
  2. An understanding of reflective processes designed for Leaders to observe and modify their presence.
  3. Creating the space that allows leaders to make real shifts in performance

Coaching Leaders in the VUCA World

What are some of the words the leaders you are coaching are using to describe their current work environment and culture. If you could just capture a couple of the keywords that you you’re hearing as you are working with your leaders, it would be great to sort of see because we have people and coaches from right around the world from Mexico, from UK from Australia, and of course throughout the India as well which is fantastic to see. So if you can capture into chat for me, what are some of the words that leaders you’re coaching are using that describe their current work environment? 


Yes. Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity. 

Particularly in this time of COVID throughout these last couple of years, is it seeing progress? Procrastination, personal relevance, love an excellent list. 

And so I want to pull on one of the key themes, which you’ve you’ve listed there, which is this idea about, this VUCA environment that we are all actually living in personally and then working as coaches in, this situation where 18 months ago, like you.

I used to run most of my coaching face to face. I used to run most of my facilitation face to face and within two months time had to completely pivot to doing everything online. 

What is Zoom? How to use Zoom? How to bring a three day program or four day program onto a zoom environment? Would it work? How would we do that? 

So just the complexity and uncertainty that was raised for us, and it’s one of the many challenges that we’re finding, as we continue this work, is how do we help people deal with this complexity? 

How do we coach people through this ambiguity and uncertainty? I happen to be actually living in Melbourne, Australia, on the east coast of Australia. We were the city which was locked down for 262 days in the last 18 months. How do I virtually lead an organization of 100 to 2000 10,000 people? In that sort of environment, it’s a massive challenge. 

It’s one of the key skills that we as coaches need to be able to help to work with, is this idea about helping them from a horizontal skills development, but also a vertical development. So again, I can see a number of you may be familiar with this. So I’d want to just touch on this lightly. So what this VUCA is raising for us is this reality of the complexity of the world and where we need to be.

And the complexity of the mind that our leaders actually operate from, under our own complexity of mind. And what we’re starting to highlight is this concept of a developmental gap.

Now, for some, that gap is very small, for some, there’s no gap at all. For others, that gap is very large. And in the complexity, that is VUCA, we’re finding that people are feeling more and more challenged to deal with that complexity. And so that’s one of the keys here is to understand how do I uncover that developmental gap? 

(Ian talked parallelly on dealing with complexity along with vertical and horizontal development)

How do I coach and work with my leaders to help them through this complexity?

There are two areas that in my experience I’ve had to work with, over my time, this idea about horizontal development as a coach, and as a leader, and this idea and domain of vertical development.

 So what do I mean by that? What I mean by outer game and inner game, this outer game is this idea of this horizontal development. That’s the competencies. That’s the knowledge, the skills, the technical expertise, experience, the behaviors. 

I know when early on in my career, and early on in my coaching, that’s where I spent a lot of my time, and it’s a vital area. People need to learn their skills and capabilities. Think back to peps when you were first in your first leadership role. Why were you promoted into leadership? Often it comes from your technical capability.

You were very good at what you did. And so we promoted you. And then remember what it was like that first time I’m now leading a team. What were the models in your head about what effective leaders did? What were some of the leaders that you had worked for? That were effective? And if you think back on that now, did you find yourself modeling their behavior?

Perhaps you went even further back and modeled some of the behaviors that came from your family, your upbringing, your education. And so then, of course, we realized that we need to learn all of these skills. How do I have that hard conversation? How do I delegate? How do I recruit people? How do I hold performance management conversations, there’s a whole range of horizontal development and skills that are absolutely vital. And as coaches, they’re a fundamental part of the work that we need to do.

The challenge is, that’s only the outer game.

And by that, I mean, what sits underneath it is this concept of inner game. And you know, the old idea of the iceberg that most of the iceberg is actually under the water. So if I worked with you, I would see your behaviors, your competency, your knowledge,

What I don’t get a line of sight to what I can’t see is the inner game.

Making Decisions, Inner Game and Outer Game

How do you go about making decisions, your level of self awareness, your level of emotional intelligence, what are the mental models that you have that guide you as a leader in this complex world?

What’s your sense of identity? Where did that come from? Now all of those will play out in how you behave in how you lead. But what ‘s more difficult to see is what is running, you’re in a game. And as a coach, what if I get a line of sight to this inner game for people? What if I could help shine a light for them below the waterline, so that they can also understand what it is that is driving them?

What is important to them[coachees]?

And so as a leadership coach, what I’m finding now is absolutely vital to work on this outer game is horizontal development. We need that, particularly for the leaders who are early in their careers. But as the level of complexity of the environment in which they’re leading has increased. We also need to think about vertical development? So what do I mean by vertical development?.

There’s a fundamental difference between horizontal development skills development and vertical development. This is just one way it’s not an official definition. But it’s one way to think about it and think about where do you coach? Where do you spend most of the time with the leaders that you are coaching?

Are you often invited into when you’re being asked to take on a new leader, or a new team as a coach, so horribly horizontal develops this idea of adding knowledge and skills transmitted from experts, often as coaches, we are experts, or were expert trainers. 

So we are imparting those skills, that knowledge is those capabilities for people. It’s about what you think. But vertical development is actually about growing the ability to think, feel and act in a complex, systemic and independent way. Another way of looking at that, beyond the words is, what do you notice about the two sides of the cup, horizontal development is about having an expert sort of fill your cup with concepts, techniques and skills, really vital and important things to do. So we can’t not do those things. But vertical development is actually about growing the size of the cup.

Bring the mind of the leader’s ability to deal with complexity.

Dealing with Complexity in VUCA World

How do I now deal with this level of complexity and with this level of VUCA?

Again, horizontal development, coaching at a horizontal level is no more straightforward. And I can learn their skills. But how do I help someone potentially develop vertically?

The rationale and why it is important is because as things get more complex, our old operating system, a bit like out of date.  

It’s a bit like the growth of the tree. If you cut a tree down after one year, you’ll probably see one ring. If you cut a tree, there’s 50 years, 100 years, 150 years, you’ll see all of the rings, all of that growth. 

And one of the key areas of focus is this reactive operating system in this creative operating system, this is a major transition, any of these moves could be a five year seven year transition depending on how focused they are. 

It depends on how important it is, it depends on how complex the environment they find themselves in as leaders. And so, again, I’ll leave this for you, because I want to make sure we have time for some questions at the back end. But just to what I want you to take away from this point, it’s just this idea that we have horizontal development and vertical development. And that there are different levels of vertical development are fundamentally different ways of leading and being in the world. 

If you’re curious about it, look up Bob Keegan, at least to have done some great work on the vertical or addled development, they call. They have some slightly different language for this. But they’re fundamentally different operating systems, fundamentally different ways of leading and being in the world. 

Interestingly, it also applies to organizations. So think about the organizations that you’re working in. And think about the cultures of the organizations that you work in, you often find there’s quite a strong correlation between the level of complexity of the mind of the senior leaders, and the types of culture that they actually have in the organization, organizations that they work in.

So again, lots more behind this, just to give you a taste of this idea, there is this complete other area of vertical development of vital areas that coaches learn from and think about. 

If you think about your own development, here may be your next development edge. Because I can work with people and lead people and coach people, when I’m also doing my own work.

Using The Leadership Circle: The Only Tool You Will Need

 I personally use the leadership circle.

It’s my foundation for vertical and deep developments.

 Why do I do it, because there’s lots of good instruments out there. 

In fact, early in my career, I went through a number of different 360s. But I came across TLC or leadership circle in 2012. And when I received my report, I realized why I do what I do. They gave me a very clear line of sight to where my areas of strength were, but also what my patterns and habits of thinking were, that were getting in my way.

 It connects leadership competencies with the underlying habits of thought. So I want to go to the 360, I want to get feedback about competencies, right. But I also want to understand what’s driving those companies, the outer game, the inner game, the above the line of the iceberg, the below the water aspect of the iceberg reveals the relationships between the patterns of actions and the assumptions that drive them. 

So I get to start to understand what might be driving these individuals and the assumptions, which means I can look at development, and particularly look at potentially fast tracking their development because they can see it themselves. It links with these stages of adult development, as it said, and it gets to the source of behavior to get great leverage on change. So look, it’s a powerful instrument. 

What’s the energy cost for your team? 

What’s the energy cost for the organization, if you’re the CEO, or very senior executive within a large organization, this as a strength based framework, but it gives me an immediate line of sight of where is this leader being experienced in this creative generative, top half of the profile, or in this sort of consumptive reactive operating system? 

So I can see if a leader has a preference for a task or relationship.

What might be some of these reactive tendencies and look at these controlling, driven, ambitious, autocratic pefs. They’re the patterns and habits of thinking that are getting in their way of being able to relate. So it’s all I’m thinking, some hypothesis about what I’m seeing until I get to meet the leader. So one of the important things about TLC development is understanding a little bit about the context and foundation of the leader that we’re working with. 

So if I’m using the leadership circle, before I put their profile down, I’ve understood a whole lot about their context. I’ve asked them about their current role responsibilities, accountabilities, I’ve looked them up on LinkedIn, if I’m working externally from the organization,

I’ve spent time asking them who’s in their profile, asking them about their current role responsibilities, I’ll ask them about what are the challenges they’re facing, what’s happening in the organization or the system which they’re working in. So I’m building out this context. And so same thing for me a little bit about my context and foundation, because it’s going to give you a line of sight to how this thing played out in my leadership circle profile.

You know, of course plays out in the organizations of leaders that were working. And all of the leaders you’re working with and yourself, of course, bring all of your background and history and culture with you into your work life. 

Realizing Purpose with The Leadership Circle Profile

And so when I completed the TLC in 2012, now a little bit about my context, in 2012, I had been working with DDI (Development Dimensions International) for about 10 years. And at this stage, just before 2012, I was the general manager of VDI here in Australia. 

I would look after all the southern states of Australia and I had a colleague who was looking after the northern states of Australia. So I’d had a I’d written up from through consulting through business development, and then into the general manager role.

I had accountability, p&l, accountability, responsibility, plus, I was also looking after, and managing and leading and recruiting a group of consultants, as we then offered all of the DDI programs out to our clients. So that was just again, a little bit about the work context. And so I was seen as quite a successful general lender. 

I had a profile, which was highly complying. So, again, it’s not bad, but it has costs. And you can see that these fairly strong scores by all my raters here, you can also see that, you know, in terms of my brother, and I’m more a relationship driven leader or a task driven leader. Well, most of the scores are over here on the left hand side, which is around relationships. And what do you notice about my scores over here on achieving, like achieving results, decisiveness, purposeful, visionary, strategic focus, those sorts of competencies.

I got to a point where two general managers gave just a little bit of information to general managers, and then the boss over the years decided that he would open up a CEO role.

At the time, I decided I wouldn’t put my hand up for it.

Think now, because I didn’t have the courage. I didn’t believe that I was capable enough to do it. In fact, you know, I was so worried that you know, I might not do a good job complying. That absolutely got him away.

 So what did I do? Because this is about coaching and a deeper exploration and development. So how do I go deeper? How do I start to develop vertically, because horizontally, I had the skills. I’ve done the work, I’d learned the capabilities but it was booting up on my mindset.

And so I realized I needed to work from a vertical development perspective.

People often ask me, So what’s your purpose?

I would fluff around and not be at all clear. Because I haven’t really done the work on it. And so one of the tools that I use, and I mentioned, hopefully many of you also is helping your leaders get very clear on their purpose.

 Why are they here? Why do they exist? What’s their deeper purpose in life? Where do they want to go? What do they want to do at the end of their life?

If you’d like what they would look back on and be able to achieve? Now, again, there are very, very many different ways of finding purpose, and I want to just do a short version for you. Because if you haven’t done this work, it’s important work to do. Because if you aren’t clear on your own purpose, and how you’re going to help work with others who and to help them do their own. Now, again, it’ll be interesting, putting the questions if some people had some other ways of doing it, but this is one way in. 

Is your purpose to explore, to excite, to ignite, to develop, to grow, to challenge, to awaken, to calm, to stimulate, to provoke?

There’s a whole bunch more words you could use. I’ve got my purpose sitting there is to awaken. And then around that I’ve got my values of growth, connection, freedom and compassion.

Vital work to do as leaders, vital work for us to do as leaders and with leaders to help them undercover. Because what is the purpose will pull me forward. When things are tough through this VUCA environment through this complexity, I can use my purpose as a stake in the ground, as I would say about if that’s genuinely who I am. 

That’s genuinely what I care about. Then how am I going to show up today? How am I going to lead today? How am I going to coach today? How are we going to pick up that phone and talk with clients today?

Ian connected all the dots that a coach might find challenging while with leaders. Stay tuned in this space to be updated with our bi-monthly sessions with world-class coaches only on Coaching Matters.

About The Speaker

Ian’s primary focus is in executive leadership and team development with CEO’s, senior public servants and professionals who are under increasing pressure to improve their top line performance and bottom line results.

Ian has had a long relationship with The Leadership Circle, first being certified in late 2012. This culminated with Ian joining the TLC Asia Pacific Certification faculty team as a facilitator of the TLC certification workshop in late 2020. He also works very closely with the global faculty as Asia Pacific’s representative ensuring that we continue to develop this important flagship workshop and that we stay global aligned.

Ian’s executive coaching and leadership consulting work is built on more than 30 years’ organisational experience gained across a range of general management, business development, consulting, and organisational development roles. Clients that he is currently working with include Ernst & Young, Sequiris; and KPMG. His initial career as a classical musician studying and working in both Australia and West Berlin provided an excellent grounding in and personal experience of the power and importance of collective leadership.