Neo-psycho Babble, Mick Dundee and Management Coaching Benefits

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Paul Hogan as Crocodile Dundee

There’s an amusing scene in Crocodile Dundee[1] where Mick Dundee (Paul Hogan) quizzes Sue Charlton (Linda Kozlowski) about why it is that all Americans need to go to see their shrink from time to time.  She quizzes that surely Dundee has a shrink too.  In his Aussie drawl, he replies that he has Wally (John Meillon).  And what makes Wally a shrink, she asks – you tell him your problems and he tells the whole settlement, he retorts.  After that all your problems are solved!

Has coaching gone the same way?  Does every manager need a coach?  Certainly observing  the supply side, it seems everyone wants to be a coach.  Everyone wants to coach managers to achieve what is otherwise apparently impossible without engaging ‘emotional intelligence’, ‘In the Zone’ and ‘cognitive behavioural’ techniques.  Is it what the Sunday Times describes as ‘neo-psycho babble’[2] or is there actually some foundation somewhere in the science of psychology for coaching? What are the management coaching benefits?

The Listening Coach

Let’s look again at Wally-style coaching.  Fundamentally managers are often alone.  If they are lucky, they have a board of fellow directors.  If doubly lucky they’ll have non-exec directors. Someone needs to be there for them.  So very simply, principals need to be able to discuss their issues and plans with a peer.  But when the folk you might talk to are part of the issues and the plans, that changes what you can say.  Whilst Wally might get away with blabbing Mick Dundee’s ‘secrets’ all over the outback, it’s very different when a manager wants to offload his problems.   There lies the first role of a independent coach: to listen.

The Behaviour Coach

But surely coaches do more?  Management and executive coaching relies on the basic premise that managers know what they know and more importantly they know what they don’t know.  We know that the first might be true: that a competent generalist can help the principal express the problems.  They can encourage the principal to formulate plans and make commitments for change.  But the second is more complicated.  No one knows what they don’t know!!

Only a peer manager can suggest remedies and plans outside the principal’s frame.  Only a fellow manager can explore solutions from their own experience and training and bring a very different perspective to the issues.  Management and executive coaches awaken the subject’s competence.  If the problem revolves around the principal’s behaviour and is easily understood by a generalist coach, then the coach will deliver tangible and potentially lasting benefit.  If the issue is performance of others, the performance of the markets or the performance of the firm as an organism or system, then the coach needs to bring more of themselves to the meeting.

So we have a grey scale in coaching.  To the far left is the good listener, hearing what’s said and nodding as the principal rationalises and solves their own problems.  Somewhere in the middle is the executive coach using the principal’s competence and the coach’s skill to cause an awakening need for change.  Commitment to change is achieved almost as a pact between subject and coach and change happens.  The new behaviour is practiced and practice makes perfect.  Whether it’s improving presentation skills or being more assertive, the coach brings clear results.  But it’s at the right hand side where the real benefit lies.

The Coach-Consultant

A competent peer manager as coach can listen.  They can awaken local competence and more importantly they can bring a wealth of consulting techniques to the coaching ‘couch’.  Skills like modelling the firm or the market, like culture and personality assessment or like competitor benchmarking all form part of the coach-consultant’s repertoire.  Maybe too, such a range of skills are only found in several coach-consultants – it’s possible that the issues will need a breadth not often found in one individual.  It’s here that listening, awakening and developing come together to optimise the benefit realised in any coaching programme.

So generalist executive coaches do bring benefit.   And their techniques like action learning do help subjects to awaken and solve problems.  But the scope of problem is limited to the principal’s scope.  Emotional intelligence can be developed but if the problem to be addressed is multi-facetted, spanning the principal, their people and their business, a multi-facetted approach is essential.

This is where TimelessTime’s Timeless MENTOR product scores.  Within Timeless MENTOR, there is scope to move to a semi-structured approach where principal and coach-consultant together pursue one of several approaches.  With it goes objective setting and with that, outcomes and plans.

TimelessTime Methods

The first of the possible approaches is the traditional gap analysis where the coach-consultant and principal set the purpose and aims, model the firm (or part of the firm containing the problem), determine a present state, envision a future state that resolves the issue, set desirable outcomes, make plans and monitor progress.  The process can then be repeated until a satisfactory resolution is achieved.  This approach can be applied to all manner of problems.

Then there’s the slightly more esoteric but still tangible ‘McKinsey approach’[3].  The coach-consultant and principal investigate the problem and postulate a solution.  They then carry out such additional research, modelling, walk-through’s[4] or the like to prove (or indeed disprove) the initial hypothesis.  Once proven, they develop an implementation plan.  The method is based on the so-called scientific method of enquiry[5].

These two are highly tangible approaches to coaching that marry the power of the peer manager as consultant and his or her skills as coach to form what we’ve called the coach-consultant.  The approaches can be applied across finance, marketing, sales, operations, customer support, research and development, information technology and organisation development; in fact across every domain in the firm and beyond.

Management Coaching Benefits

Coach-consultants bring traditional coaching skills – soft skills.  They also bring a host of techniques across people and systems management.  There are several substantial benefits of such techniques:

  • The methods are tangible.  The principal as subject sees no mystique.  It’s clear from the outset where the discussions are going.  And the solution is tangible and easily put into practice since the subject was part of the solution development.
  • The methods are transparent.  They can be expressed and progress towards the solution is easily charted.  If for some reason the principal wants to stop at any point, the progress to that point is easily seen and no less valuable.
  • The methods are repeatable.  The principal learns a technique that can be repeated on other problems and that they can use with their staff across the firm.  The body of knowledge in problem-solving within the firm will have grown too.

So what’s it to be?  Is it neo-psycho babble or tangible, practical and repeatable coach-consulting?  Well, it depends.  Traditional management or executive coaching can yield practical change, particularly where the principal needs to change his or her behaviour and harness inner competences to develop new, improved styles.  And no principal should be without someone like Wally with whom to confidentially share fears, issues and plans and probe options and possibilities.  But when it comes to broad scope business problems, the TimelessTime mix of coaching and consulting wins every time.  Whatever the coaching or consulting need, Timeless ONE offers the ideal one-to-one solution.


[1]Crocodile Dundee is a 1986 Australian comedy film set in the Australian Outback and in New York City. It stars Paul Hogan as the weathered Mick Dundee and Linda Kozlowski as Sue Charlton.

[2] ‘Neo-psycho Babble’: one of the phrases the The Sunday Times used when reporting the emerging concept that was put forward as a breakthrough in changing people’s behaviour (The Sunday Times, 9 February 2003 (Davies, G.H.) in Arnold J and Randall R et al (2010) Work Psychology: understanding human behaviour in the workplace, Pearson Education, Harlow, England).  The concept was ‘emotional intelligence’ – the idea that we all have, to a greater or lesser extent, five emotional competences: self awareness, self management, motivation, social awareness and social skills.

[3] The McKinsey Approach comes from the methods used by McKinsey & Company, a world renowned US management consultancy (see www.mckinsey.com).  The method is well documented by Paul Friga in his book The McKinsey Engagement (see www.paulfriga.com)

[4] A walk-through is a technique for testing processes.  The process is literally walked through or walked through ‘in the mind’s eye’ and activity at each stage imagined and modelled against expectations.

[5] Anyone who fancies a little theory should see the excellent paper on the scientific method at http://www.indiana.edu/~educy520/sec5982/week_1/inquiry_sci_method02.pdf accessed on 24th April 2011.

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