Has anybody read the book by Rosamund and Ben Zander called the Art of Possibility? Better yet, has anyone watched any of Ben’s YouTube videos of him giving presentations of the principles of the book using music (his day job is Conductor of the Boston Philharmonic) as a medium for the message? They are brilliant and they are really quite funny. I had the personal experience of being at a Ben Zander talk at the World Business Forum in 2011. If you want to talk about the art of possibility, who would have thought it would have been possible to have 5,000 type A executives singing together … the Ode To Joy no less … while standing on their chairs … singing in German … at the top of their lungs!
It was a treat and an experience I won’t soon forget!!
The first principle of the book is “Give Yourself An A”. Ben runs a class at the New England Conservatory of Music that is very difficult to get into. The students that arrive are highly gifted and over-achievers. At the beginning of their term, they are perhaps overly stressed about passing such a prestigious class, and Ben noticed that these highly talented musicians didn’t really perform as well as they can.
So he started telling the students from the onset of the program to “give themselves an A”. In fact, he told them that this was indeed the grade that they would receive at the end of the program. The catch is that their first assignment, due the next day, is to write a letter dated as of the end of the class stating exactly why they got their A. Why they are an outstanding student and musician.
I’m in the midst of my own “give yourself an A” experience right now. Our class at the Hudson Institute of Coaching is writing our final exam. It is an open book, take home exam that we have a month to complete. It has 68 questions and we are allowed to work with our team within the class to complete it. In fact it is not even necessary that our team submit unique responses. All that matters is that we submit a completed exam, signed, by the appointed time and we have been assured we will get an A.
So what’s the point?
It is this. The Hudson Institute knows that they select candidates that have the potential to be good coaches. They know that they have built an excellent program that instills all of the knowledge and skills to produce good coaches. They are confident that we will all pass the exam proving we are good coaches.
But in echo of my post of last week Good Enough?, Hudson isn’t interested in turning out good coaches. They want to foster great coaches! They’ve learned that the most effective way to test us is to let us know that we will be successful, and instead turn our efforts to learning as much as we can from the experience of this examination process to become great coaches, great teammates, greater people.
We are trying new forms of collaboration, we are engaged in active debate about the best methods to do this, we plan what we want to get out of each meeting and I’m certain that once we are satisfied with what we will submit as our final paper that we will continue to stretch ourselves in what we can learn out of the process. In short, not only will we have proven that we have the right to an A on the exam, we will have used the testing process as a unique experience to reinforce what we already have learned.
What opportunities do leaders have to do this at work? How do we enter into our annual cycle of performance reviews? Do we enter in thinking that there are few people who can achieve the top rating? Do we prepare people to understand that the second best rating is “pretty good”? Or how about this one … our HR department tells us that our distribution of ratings among our team cannot vary too far from the norm and thus we can’t give out too many top ratings!!! How is that motivating?
How would we give all our team A’s? What if we said to them at the beginning of that year … you are all top performers and I appreciate you so much! As a top performer, what I would like you to do is write your performance review for the upcoming year now. I would like you to write exactly what you have done over the past year that has made you proud of what you have done to be rated a top performer. What if we, as leaders, then used that pre-written performance assessment as a coaching guide for the remainder of the year?
I can’t say I’ve ever taken this approach but as I write it I find it exciting and intriguing. What would happen if we actually did that? What would it be like if we worked with a team of total A students (A players in the business world)?