“Learn to really stop and listen,” says Allison Iantosca, president of F.H. Perry Builder. “It creates a dynamic between two people that is not normally there.”
F.H. Perry Builder was founded by my father, Finley H. Perry, Jr., in 1977, when I was 5 years old. For 20 years, we never talked about me getting involved with the business, but that changed in 2000. Today, I’m president and owner of the company, based in Hopkinton, Mass., about 30 miles outside of Boston.
Over time, as I moved deeper into my role as a leader, I noticed that I was getting further away from the actual work done by the people that I led, most of whom were managers themselves. I think what happens is that, as company leaders who were successful when we were doing the work our managers are now doing, we assume that we have the tools to help other people succeed. But it’s not necessarily automatic.
So after giving this realization some thought, I enrolled in a six-month coaching certification program at the Gestalt International Study Center (GISC) in Wellfleet, Mass. The program—which is rigorous—leads to a Professional Coach credential recognized by the International Coach Federation. It’s designed for people who want to either start up their own coaching practice or integrate coaching as an important aspect of their approach to leadership. I just completed the final phase.
The following quote, from Simon Sinek, characterizes my own notion of leadership: “Leaders are not responsible for the results; leaders are responsible for the people who are responsible for the results.” For me, that responsibility is rooted in building trust in relationships with my team, and supporting their personal development. When somebody walks into the office and says, “I have this problem,” it’s hard not to say, “Tell me and I’ll solve it for you.”
As I moved deeper into my role as a leader, I noticed I was getting further away from the actual work done by the people that I led
But coaching is not a leader telling a colleague how to do something. A critical piece of it is working together to co-create experiments that close the gap between a person’s ideal self and their real self.
Experiments? What does that mean exactly? Think about resistance, one of the twenty core concepts in Gestalt theory.
Resistance is a paradox. It’s a force that stops progress, but also has energy that can create momentum. The difference comes in how you join with a problem. Asking what’s good about a problem is not a place where people usually start, so we need training to learn how to create a different possibility.
Let’s say someone has trouble with public speaking. As a leader, if I encourage them to find opportunities to speak and they resist, then we explore that. Maybe they feel they are too shy or not bold enough. So I could ask, “What would you be willing to try? Are you willing to sacrifice your shyness to get a little bolder?” And together we co-create an “experiment”—they might agree to speak in a small meeting with a couple of colleagues.
The result is not only a plan to overcome a problem, but the nurturing of a trusting relationship that helps build the confidence people need to be successful. That’s good for my leadership team, and as they learn to use it to support their people, it’s good for the organization.
The GISC program has taught me how to asking questions changes the hierarchy. Hierarchy is still necessary, but more and more, I’m in a place where the hierarchy is not going to help me. Millennials, for starters, are asking to be heard and cared for (just like the rest of us). Asking open-ended questions meets people where they are, and a good coach helps them get to where they want to be.