Establishing Key Differences between Coaching and Counselling

Establishing Key Differences between Coaching and Counselling. By Aoife Harrington (MSc, BA Psych, Reg. Psychol PsSI)

Although coaching and counselling represent relatively recent additions to the range of human service professions, both have undergone significant growth and development over the last few decades. In fact it has been reported that coaching is now the second-fastest growing profession in the world, rivaled only by information technology (Williams, 2008) while the uptake of counselling has also seen a sharp rise, particularly in western industrialised societies (McLeod, 2003). Much confusion exists, however, amongst the general public, and indeed professionals alike, as to what the difference is between coaching and counselling – with many people treating them as one and the same.

According to the International Coaching Federation (ICF), coaching can be defined as ‘an ongoing partnership that helps clients produce fulfilling results in their personal and professional lives’. It represents a form of personalised, supported learning undertaken for the accomplishment of goals in a chosen area of focus, be that professional or personal (Goldberg, 1999). In the coaching relationship, the coach partners the client in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximise their potential. Although it can take many forms, counselling can be broadly defined as a highly skilled intervention focused on helping individuals address underlying psychological problems. Counselling is, therefore, a therapeutic relationship between counselor and client and although it can be viewed as a helping behaviour or a repertoire of interventions it is, most fundamentally, a psychological process (McLeod, 2003).

Part of the reason for the blurring of boundaries between coaching and counselling is because – as disciplines or helping professions – they share many similar qualities. Both are based on a client/practitioner model and, for the most part, are conducted by skilled practitioners. There is also an overlap in terms of their basic philosophies – with both coaching and (many) counselling initiatives embracing the client as the centre of the process and the masters of their own destinies. Both focus on the needs and goals of the client, emphasise the importance of rapport building and active listening and often use goal setting and action planning techniques. Moreover, the core skills employed by the coach and the counsellor are in many cases the same, with emphasis placed on the fostering of trust, respect, openness and confidentiality. In terms of outcomes, counselling and coaching can often result in similar behaviour change or adaptation of behaviour and can help clients to foster a greater understanding or awareness of their underlying thoughts, cognition and emotional reactions in a given situation.

Despite such similarities, however, there are a number of key aspects of coaching that differentiate it from counselling.

–          To begin, the nature of the client/practitioner relationship tends to be different in counselling, as there is a greater power differential. Specifically, the relationship is much more defined in counselling with the therapist typically taking charge of the counselling session, diagnosing the client’s situation and then providing professional expertise and guidelines to map out a path to healing. By contrast, there is more of an equal partnership in coaching.

–          In line with the power differential discussed above, the level of expertise associated with coaching and counselling tends to differ.  Specifically, clients typically come to counselling with a problem and the counsellor is seen as an expert who will attempt to remedy this problem. Coaching is not about what the coach delivers, however, but what the client creates and, therefore, coaches are not seen as experts, but rather as guides and resource providers.

–          Following on from this, the skills set, training and experience of counsellors tends to differ – and often exceed – that of coaches, due to the nature of the issues under discussion and resolution. As counselling often leads to deep and intense emotional experiences, it demands skillful guidance from an experienced practitioner. The need to study complex theories of human behaviour, however, is less important for coaches simply because coaching is more concerned with process than actual content.

–          Another key differentiating factor is the reactive nature of counselling, typically focusing on the resolution of problems, particularly those of an emotional or interpersonal nature. By contrast, coaching is much more proactive and thus tends not to be about solving problems, although, in the process, issues under consideration may become resolved in a way that restores balance to the client’s life.

–          Although both coaching and counselling are goal driven, how goals are actually formed and the role on the coach in goal setting tends to be quite different in coaching. Specifically, the goals of coaching are formulated and determined solely by the client. The coach’s role in establishing goals is to help the client stay focused on working towards those goals (making sure they are achievable, realistic, measurable and linked to a specific time frame). In order to achieve this, coaches must ask key questions of the client in order to gather information, build and maintain the relationship, inspire them to think clearly and creatively and, most critically, to make requests and initiate action.

–          Another key differential in terms of coaching versus counselling is the degree to which the focus is on the past versus the present/future. Coaching primarily focuses on a person’s present, in order to help them create actionable strategies for achieving specific goals in their life while counselling tends to be primarily concerned with exploring past events or issue. While the past may be discussed on occasion in coaching, it is typically only addressed in the context of discovering what is blocking the client from moving forward in their current and future roles and in the context of goal attainment.

–          One final area for consideration is that the boundaries tend to be somewhat different in coaching compared to counselling/therapeutic relationships, with coaching allowing for greater flexibility. Specifically, there tends to be more scope in how and when coaching is delivered, for example, coaching can take place in a variety of locations and often utilizes various media of communication, including email and teleconference facilities. Counselling on the other hand typically takes place in the same location (often a counsellor’s room’s) on a regular basis, with little scope for deviation.

In summary, although both coaching and counselling are person-centered, holistic approaches that are primarily concerned with meeting the needs of the client, in a safe and structured environment – a number of key differences set them apart. In brief, coaching is a future-orientated, strengths based, proactive, challenging, non-judgmental process whereby the coach partners the client in a journey of self-discovery. The process is fundamentally important in coaching, often more so than outcomes, and it is the client’s responsibility to set the agenda and goals for coaching, with the coach monitoring progress and holding the client accountable. By contrast, counselling is a remedial, directive, therapeutic, retrospective intervention and is orientated to the clients past experiences and the resolution of problems. Importantly, what will be crucial for both disciplines going forward will be to educate people on the merit and utility of both coaching and counselling, and most fundamentally, to create a better understanding of when and in what context each will be most appropriately employed.


Goldberg, M.C. (1999). Expert question asking: The engine of successful coaching. The   Manchester Review; University of Manchester.

McLeod, J. (2003). An introduction to counselling, 3rd edition. McGraw-Hill, Open University Press London.

Williams, R. (2008). Executive coaching: The secret weapon for high impact leadership. National Post. Vancouver, CA.



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Accountability or Responsibility – The Achilles’ Heel of Leadership

Accountability or Responsibility – the Achilles’ Heel of Leadership by Andrew Harley

There is a blurred boundary between responsibility and accountability. For many people the two are interchangeable, with shared meaning. This paper will examine the clear and profound difference between the two terms. The understanding of this difference is one of the critical factors in differentiating truly effective leaders from those who are only taskmasters.

To illustrate the difference a comparison can be made between two business leaders:

Brian is the Managing Director of a manufacturing business that generates revenues of €60 million a year from products sold globally. He has direct involvement in all aspects of the business and keeps track of progress by the active management of 250 current tasks in Outlook on his computer and Blackberry. His challenge, as he sees it, is to ensure that all the tasks are completed to his satisfaction.

Alan is the Managing Director of a manufacturing business that has grown from sales of €10 million five years ago to €40 million in the current year. Alan’s target for the business next year is €60milloin. He actively monitors eight projects, ranging from cost reduction to innovation. Most of his energy is devoted to ensuring that everyone in the business has a clear and shared picture of the future and are committed to making that picture a reality.

The difference is stark – Brian works almost 100 hours a week and feels that he has no time to relax. Alan averages 50 hours a week and has a good work/life balance. How can we understand this difference? Essentially both Brian and Alan want the same things, to deliver growth and shareholder value. The difference is the way that they approach this. Brian has not yet made the distinction between what he is accountable for and what he is responsible for. Alan, on the other hand, is acutely aware of the difference and refuses to let the boundaries become compromised.

The way that the two terms differ is subtle and sometimes difficult to articulate. The simple and easy way to distinguish between the two is to take the meaning of Responsible as the expression of the direct link between action and outcome. Accountability is the achievement of outcomes by indirect means. Returning to Brian and Alan this is the way that it works in reality: Brian knows what has to be done and how. If he had time he could do everything himself. The time is not available so he instructs others to act as his proxies.

Alan knows what has to be achieved and by when. He believes that others know better than him how to do things – so he builds in others commitment to the result and allows them to determine for themselves the means of achievement.

Alan is comfortable answering to the shareholders regarding the performance of the business –accountability sits easily with him. He understands that it is his duty to make the business effective and efficient. He recognises that this can only be delivered if each individual is effective, committed and takes responsibility for delivering their assigned contribution – not as a set of actions but a result to be achieved.

At this point it might be tempting to leave Brian behind and explore further what Alan is doing. But there are more Brians in the world than there are Alans. If Brian can be helped then his business will prosper and grow and he will get some of his life back. By examining what Brian is doing and particularly what he does not do, we can illuminate the areas of potential development and improvement.

Brian believes that people:

• like to be given clear direction and instruction

• are there to help him do what needs to be done

• are not as committed to the business as he is and accept standards that are lower than his

• do not see things as clearly as he does and he doesn’t have the time to explain

Brian is locked into making process work and getting others to fit the process – results become a happy accident not the common goal! Brian has taken on the burden of both accountability and responsibility. He does not see how he can shift the burden of responsibility to others – he tells them what to do but they don’t seem to get it. For him it is most expedient to keep the responsibility. He has effectively taught his team that he will take responsibility for solving all the problems in the business. This has never been his intention – it just sort of crept-up on him. What should he do?

He need s to begin by deciding where he wants the business to go – to set realistic targets for growth in volume, revenue, market share and margin. These need to be communicated to his team and they should decide how the targets should be met. Brian needs to be comfortable with the general plan and give his team members the responsibility to make it happen. They can solve their own problems – Brian just needs to monitor progress. That is in essence what Alan does and his business grows and grows.


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The Importance of Trust in Business

The Importance of Trust in Business by Amber Hanna

Trust in an organisation will be based on trust in the people who make up that organisation. Trust is necessary for effective communication and cooperation without which an organisation could not function. Trust can reduce complexities and costs of exchanges in a more efficient manner than alternative means of managing organisational life.

Corporate communication is the main mechanism for fostering this type of trust. Organisations can be the objects of their employees’ trust, as people generally trust an organisation to behave in a responsible manner and regulate the intentions of its employees to serve its interests.

Research has demonstrated that trust in an organisation can reduce the need for hierarchical controls and formal contracts, as well as reducing the occurrence of opportunistic behaviour. Trust in people and trust in organisations are connected by the functions and positions people have, and the roles people play within the organisation.

This view of trust has been strengthened by research findings indicating that trust and job design are complementary constructs in understanding important organisational outcomes such as job satisfaction and intention to quit.

Trusting and being trusted

Trustworthiness and trust are separate things, trustworthiness is a quality that the person we put our trust in (or trustee) has, while trusting is something that the trustor does. This suggests that characteristics of the trustee will lead to them being perceived by others as more or less trustworthy. The characteristics of the trustor that influence perceptions of their trustworthiness according to research are their ability, benevolence and integrity.

As a relationship progresses and trust develops, both parties gather experience, and a growing body of trust-relevant evidence on which to base their assumptions develops. As this happens different levels of trust may develop across the facets of trust, so within a relationship an individual may trust another with respect to some areas but not others.

An advantage of this approach to trust is that it can lead us to a better understanding of working relationships. In a business setting it is quite possible that a leader may be trusted according to their competence but not trusted in terms of their reliability or openness. This provides a useful tool for managers or leaders in organisations as it is possible to locate which aspect of trust they are deficient in and provides recourse to improve this.However as people we can never be fully sure of another’s motivations, intentions or even actions.

Often trust comes down to a decision to trust or distrust. The inherent vulnerability that we accept when we decide to trust someone causes us to constantly doubt whether our decision is right. Reducing this doubt can help us determine whether the decision we make regarding someone’s trustworthiness is the right one.

Roderick Kramer recently described in the Harvard Business Review (June 2009) seven concrete tips to reduce this doubt and achieve what he calls ‘temperate trust’

1. Know yourself

Think back on your experiences with people you have mistakenly trusted or distrusted, is there a pattern where you have trusted too easily? Or are you the type of person who guards their trust too closely, assuming the worst and holding back?

2. Start small

There is no avoiding the risk that is entailed in trusting, however if you are trying to develop an atmosphere of trust in your business start small. Give your employees opportunities to show they are trustworthy that entail little risk for you. If you begin to meet people halfway by reducing red tape you will foster trustworthy behaviours.

3. Write an escape clause

If people have a clear way out of a situation if things don’t go the way they planned they will be more likely to trust fully and give more commitment.

4. Send strong signals

Your own trustworthiness may be obvious to you but those around you may still need more evidence.  It is important to send strong signals regarding your own trustworthiness, at the same time react purposefully to breaches of your trust to show trust is an important value to you.

5. Recognize the other person’s dilemma

While you are struggling with the decision between trust and distrust the other person in the scenario may be experiencing the same thing. To build good relationships it is essential to assuage feelings of anxiety and concerns you colleague may have.

6. Look at roles as well as people

A given role may provide evidence of a person’s expertise and motivation. But be aware that a position does not automatically confer trustworthiness.

7. Be vigilant and question everything

When we engage in a relationship we think about a person’s trustworthiness, however after that decision has been made we often don’t question it again until our trust has been breached.

It may be psychologically uncomfortable to remain vigilant and question our decisions to trust but it may prevent abuses of trust occurring in the future.


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Amber Hanna is a trainee Organisational Psychologist at DavittCorporatePartners – Corporate Psychologists

A Window on an Alien World: Development Centres in the Context of Director Competencies

Andrew Harley Reports on the experiences drawn from the use of director level competencies in three different organisations

The body of literature relating to human resource management is replete with reports on the use of competency frameworks which are weighted heavily towards blue-collar, administrative and management roles within organisations. In the 1990s a body of work has emerged to establish director competencies. This article will report experiences drawn from the use of director level competencies in three different organisations.

A number of large-scale projects have been undertaken with clients in response to a common question: how can we identify in senior individuals the potential to contribute at board level or equivalent and, having done so, facilitate the development of that potential? This article will report findings from work in three client organisations; the National Health Service where the target level was chief executive of a trust, a large city legal practice where the target level was partner and a major building society where the target level was a supra-functional executive level.


In each case an empirical approach was adopted to establish the competencies against which individuals would be measured. At this point it is appropriate to define the term “competency” as it will be used in the rest of this article.

A competency is defined as: “an underlying characteristic of an individual which is causally related to effective or superior performance in a job” [1]. This definition may be further expanded to:

Competencies can be motives, traits, self-concepts, attitudes or values, content knowledge or cognitive or behavioural skills — any individual characteristic that can be measured or counted reliably and that can be shown to differentiate significantly between superior and average performers, or between effective and ineffective performers[2].

With each client organisation competencies were developed using a combination of behavioural event interviews, repertory grid and expert panels. Experience would suggest that the adoption of a generic or externally developed model of director competencies is limited in scope as the definition and associated behavioural indicators critically need to reflect an organisation’s culture and values. The postulate that “values held by the individual should not be incompatible with the values held by the organisation” [3] becomes vitally important at board level where the exercise of personal competences transcends an individual’s functional or technical heritage.

The ensuing competency framework comprises a definition of the discrete competence together with associated behavioural indicators such that observed behaviour can have some meaning in terms of the underlying competences. The competency models range in scale from eight to 13 discrete competences. Although defined individually, evidence would suggest that there is a dynamic between the competences which leads to the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.

Having agreed the competency framework, a development centre design was adopted, generally comprising exercises and simulations allowing individuals the opportunity to evidence the competencies. The components of the development centre typically were: a leaderless group discussion, a role play, in-tray and analysis exercise. Additionally, a personality measure was included. In each case, exercise materials were designed and developed in close collaboration with the client, such that they had relevance to the client’s business and would have credibility for the participants. The development centre paradigm was based on external observation and assessment utilising the discipline of observe, record, classify and evaluate. Assessors were drawn from each client organisation’s boards, or in the case of the legal practice, from senior partners. The assessors underwent a period of training in the assessment process. In this way, the exercise materials were validated and appropriate standards set for evaluation of the competences.

In practice, the events were run over three consecutive days. Day one was devoted to participants engaging in exercises and the assessors observing and recording. Day two was devoted to explaining the background of the process to the participants, describing the competency framework and means of assessment. In addition, the participants undertook a number of self-assessed exercises in order that they could rate themselves against the competences. By the end of day two the assessors had completed their evaluations and given feedback to the participants. On day three the participants received feedback from the personality profile (which the assessors do not have access to) and worked individually to assimilate all the information which they had received and to evaluate this in the context of their own careers and the direction which they would wish to take. Syndicate work was also undertaken to elucidate avenues for addressing the development needs which had been identified.


The outcomes from the development centre fall into two broad domains. Sound evidence of individuals’ capability and potential is generated. From the individual’s perspective, they have a personal development plan which will identify the areas which need to be addressed to enhance the prospect of them being contributors at board (or partner) level.

While the above is a reasonably robust framework, it cannot and should not stand in isolation. The immediate benefits of the process to the organisation are clearly apparent and generally immediate. However, there is an acute need to be sensitive to the fact that the participants are people, rather than components going through a process, who by the very nature of the experience may have their values and priorities challenged. Thus, a development centre, while being a valuable vehicle for the release and encouragement of potential in outstanding individuals, may also be a source of cognitive dissonance and de-motivation to others. Demystification as a source of personal discomfort is not new and was reported as early as 1951 [4]. Again, at this point it is worth reinforcing that development centres targeted at director (or partner) level have differentiated substantially from those which may be available to more junior levels within an organization, as they pivot on personal competences rather than functional or process skills. It thus becomes imperative that the preparation of participants before the development centre and the support of them post-event, is given equal weight and managed with a high degree of sensitivity.

The premiss on which the development centre is based is one of exposing individuals to the demands and challenges of operating at director level and, from this, learning where their development needs lie. Given the context of the development centres it is inevitable that the participants come from a sub-director class and tend to be operational managers, functional heads or technical specialists. As a consequence, the main thrust of their current responsibilities lies in the management of processes and procedures directed towards clearly identified goals and outcomes. In the majority of organisations, and certainly the three cited in this article, the means of transition from function head to board level has been via an obscure process, the operation of which is opaque to the participants. The development centre itself clearly articulates a number of criteria which are essential for successful performance at director level and in doing so, informs the individuals both of the nature of the process but, more particularly, of the work which they themselves have to do in terms of development to stand a chance of promotion in the future. In this way the process is demystified and the responsibility burden tends to be transferred from the organisation to the individual.

Individuals could evaluate any potential personal cost involved

As an integral part of each development centre participants are asked to complete a feedback questionnaire at the close of the third day. This is an opportunity for them to give a rating of the event overall, its facilitation and component parts. Unexpectedly, one activity which is consistently rated highest is the feedback from the personality questionnaire. The personality measure used was the 16PF Form A and participants received feedback on a one-to-one basis after they had been given their feedback on the competences. The insight gained from the personality profile aided the participants by elucidating some of the temperament underpinnings of their evident behaviour. From this understanding, individuals could begin to evaluate any potential personal cost involved in changing their behaviour and the relative ease with which it might be achieved.

Through the process of defining the competencies, the organisation is allowed a vehicle for articulating the individual qualities which are of value. This is an important stage in determining those qualities which are of value to an organisation currently and, perhaps of greater importance, those which will be of value in allowing the organisation to position itself in anticipation of future demands. The distinction between standards for director level and the level at which participants are performing is most sharply differentiated in two broad areas.

The first of these pivots on the breadth of awareness of the environment in which the undertaking operates. Universally, participants display a strong grasp of the functional area in which they are resident and the segment of the outside environment which that interacts with. However, understanding the relationship between that area and other areas within the undertaking is not often that well developed. A lack of understanding of the breadth of the environment in which the undertaking operates and the complex nature of the operation of external factors is generally presented by participants as being symptomatic of an inability to synthesize problems and define strategic direction.

The second area commonly evidenced as a development need relates to the control of initiatives. Participants evidence a reluctance to relinquish immediate personal control of initiatives and do not have adequate mechanisms for determining that which should remain within their personal control and that which they can confidently delegate to others. There is little understanding and acknowledgement of the medium- and long-term impact of their personal actions in the context of the undertaking as a whole and the impact of this inhibitor is closely associated with the degree to which an individual can engage a sense of vision and strategic perspective.

These competence areas present consistently as being correlates of successful performance at director level and, for participants, they also present the greatest challenge in terms of development needs. This, in itself, should not be surprising, as a director who is performing at an outstanding level will not necessarily have intimate day-to-day contact with individuals at the participants’ level and consequently their mode of operation will be masked from casual view. It is reasonable to speculate that directors would not have the time or the will to articulate and communicate to those around them the complexity of their thought processes in the divining and development of strategy. Rather, the participants would have a clear view of a single strategy, short- and medium-term goals and outcomes which they and their departments were expected to achieve. By way of illustration, participants will frequently assume that every problem presented in an exercise is a legitimate problem and deal with it. In doing so they become swamped by detail. The competent director, however, will judge those items which are trivial and those which are critical and focus his or her energies on the critical issues, recognizing that the trivial aspects have little impact on the undertaking.

The nature of the exercises is such that the level of structure within the exercise and therefore the prescriptive nature of the exercise varies. In relative terms participants do better on the structured exercises and less well where there is a requirement for them to develop their own structure and impose their own priorities. They do feel less at ease with, and express more criticism of, those exercises that are less structured, while often still being inclined to concede that ambiguity may characterise the matters with which directors’ deal.

Broader issues

From the above it is a relatively simple task, within the context of the centre, to feedback to individuals where their development needs lie and the reasons for them. It is, however, less easy to establish a means by which these development needs can be adequately addressed.

The development centre represents a “rite of passage”

Participants arrive at a development centre with a variety of preconceived ideas and expectations. The commonly held belief is that the development centre represents a “rite of passage” which will open the door to the boardroom. The reality, however, is that it acts as a brief window from which the participant can view some of the complexities and priorities which prevail in a director’s role. Unless the event and the support of participants is carefully managed after the event, that window can become firmly shuttered for a long time.

The application of assessment centre technology as a tool to facilitate the development of individuals towards director level competences is a relatively new sphere of activity for practitioners and one where the body of research literature is relatively small. The experience reported in this article would suggest that there are substantial organizational benefits to derive from such an approach and also serve to highlight the distinction between director-level competences and those which prevail in other levels of an organization. An apposite observation may be that, while development centres have been utilized in other levels of organizations than the board, with degrees of success, it may be argued that this success has stemmed from the development needs being addressed by support being readily identified for the individual and put in place. At director level the development needs which are being clearly articulated and powerfully reinforced by evidence drawn from observation, are not as easily met by a prescriptive course of action to allow the individual to achieve the requisite standard. This is not to suggest that the task is one which cannot be achieved but one where its achievement will rest substantially on an organization allowing individuals more open access to board members and the freedom to learn from broadening their own base of experience.


It is apparent that the future success of a number of organizations will depend on those organisations acknowledging that not all able individuals wish to have a career path which is linear and progressive. Able individuals can contribute to an organization in such a way that their performance will be substantially enhanced, if the organization allows them the opportunity for informed selfmanagement of their careers.


  1. Boyatzis, R.E., The Competent Manager. A Model for Effective Performance.~ Wiley-Interscience, New York, NY, 1982.
  2. Spencer, L.M., McClelland, D.C. and Spencer, SM., Competency Assessment Methods, Hay/McBer Research Press, Boston, MA, 1990.
  3. Smith, M., “A theory of the validity of predictors in selection”, Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, Vol. 67 No. 1, 1994, pp. 13-31.
  4. Parry, 1.~ “The psychological advisors problems”, Occupational Psychology, Vol. 25, 1951, pp. 124-30.


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The Key to a Stress Free Life

The key to a stress-free life by Lynn O’ Toole

While it is generally acknowledged that stress profoundly influences the way in which we think and behave, few people fully understand why this is so. Recent research shows that the reason for our changed thinking and behaviour under stress is that stress causes parts of the brain to “switch off”. Thus, we lose control over certain brain areas; the more we experience stress, the more we lose control over the brain. This is why stress is one of the major causes of information loss during training that will negatively impact upon performance and learning results.

What happens during overload is that the attributes of the right brain become inaccessible, it’s functioning shuts off and the left brain becomes more active. This leads to a loss of our intuitiveness, imagination and our ability to develop an allowance and receptivity of impressions, ideas and images that arise.

Whether the stress we experience is the result of major life changes or the cumulative effect of minor everyday hassles, it is how we respond to these experiences that determines the impact the stress will have on our lives and affect our professional and personal fulfillment. The ability to start recognising how our bodies react to the stressors in our lives can be a powerful skill. Most people are more aware of the weather, the time of day, or their bank balance than they are of the tension on their own bodies.

Today, as we approach the end of the information age and enter the era of “right-brain” dominance more and more people want to know how they can adopt this skill. The answer is simple; anyone who wants to thrive and survive in today’s advanced world needs to embrace their right-brain qualities and bridge back over to the holistic right brain; in other words turning off your left brain chatter and expanding right brain functions.

Dan Pink and his followers notably Jack Black (Mindstore) in the UK have shown that this can work to dramatic effect. They have formed simple concepts and techniques, suggest step-by-step approaches and techniques to help you do it and, importantly, they are easy to dip into and build from simple encouragement to take control of your brain and your life. They highlight how we are unconsciously identified with our minds and that we are not able to stop thinking which prevents us from finding a realm of inner stillness. As part of the healing process, we need to become intensely conscious of the present moment, for example in everyday life we can practice this by every time we walk up and down the stairs if we pay close attention to every step and every movement even our breathing we can practice staying totally present with our whole self.

The head of the Stress Reduction Programme at the University of Massachusetts says, “if exercise takes care of your body, meditation takes care of your mind’. We have all encountered moments of ‘mindlessness’ such as not knowing where we put our keys or worse, we get in the car and can’t remember where we are going, resulting in separation from self and a sense of living mechanically. However, with increased awareness we can use mindfulness-based stress reduction. The good news is that mindfulness is not something that you have to “get” or acquire it is already within you.

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Managing Teams at Work

Managing Teams at Work

By Aoife Harrington (MSc, Reg. Psychol. PsSI.)

Teams are the crux of business life. Working in teams not only gives people a sense of belonging but it allows complex issues “that require a wide range of skills” to be addressed, thereby improving businesses’ technical and organisational quality. The benefits of working in teams have been well documented and can include better decision making, more effective problem solving, greater work commitment, increased bottom line returns and essential transfer of knowledge.

Team working is not an automatic process, however. Unless teams are properly managed there are likely to be process losses that can take away from the effectiveness of the teams work and particularly crucial is the role of the manager in ensuring that such potential losses are identified, minimised and managed accordingly.

First and foremost, teams do not just materialise overnight. Managers have an important role to play in team formation ‒ particularly at the norming stage ‒ because once cohesive groups are formed it is very difficult to successfully change the attitudes and behaviour of that group. While group norms are important, as they give group members a sense of belonging and they guide the actions the group will take, they can be destructive if they become too strong or if they segregate the team from other work groups by creating a perception of ‘us’ and ‘them’.

Several ways of combating over-cohesiveness in teams at work have been identified, including;

  • Focusing on the task and not on interpersonal issues
  • Sharing alternative perspectives from within and outside of the group
  • Aligning team goals with greater organisational processes and procedures
  • Promoting more group diversity
  • Rotating members among different work teams


Setting clear and specific goals for the team is one of the most important aspects of effective team management. At a very basic level meaningful goal setting will lead to meaningful commitment by individual members to the group. Goals must not only address the organisations critical strategic priorities but they should be congruent with members own values as research has consistently found that teams are more likely to achieve goals that their members believe in. Developing super-ordinate goals that emphasise those aspects of team performance that are applicable to a number of departments within the organisation can also be useful as they create a sense of affiliation with a larger group within the organisation. Equally so, managers need to set goals not just at a team level but also at an individual level, as this makes people personally responsible for their performance and reduces the likelihood of Social Loafing (a phenomenon whereby people tend to contribute less in a group than if they are working alone).

Other useful strategies for reducing the likelihood of Social Loafing in teams include;

  • Making each team member identifiable within the group
  • Clarifying – in oral and written terms – each team member’s role
  • Allocating rewards on the basis of individual performance (as well as team performance)
  • Explicitly informing the team of the importance and relevance of the work they are undertaking


Not only is goal setting an important function of the team leader but so too is providing regular and specific feedback to team members. Feedback can help identify areas that were found to be problematic or unsuccessful and steps can be taken to ensure that the same mistakes are not made again. More importantly, however, managers must ensure that they provide feedback to the team on their level of success in achieving goals and objectives as positive feedback is one of the best morale builders in teams and also promotes a sense of loyalty and unity among team members. Sharing the credit for wins and acknowledging individual effort in teams in likely to instil pride and encourage commitment to the teams’ goals.

Decision making in teams is another area where process losses can occur and an area that deserves requisite attention from team leaders. The concept of group polarisation was first introduced by psychologist and researcher Stoner, who found that when people were required to make a decision that involved taking a risk, their decision became significantly more risky when it was made in a group context (Stoner labelled this the ‘risky shift phenomenon’).

Group Think is an extreme form of group polarisation and one which can be very detrimental to the effective functioning of teams at work. To elaborate, Janis investigated the decision making processes of high-profile teams where an incorrect decision was made by the group with negative consequences. He found that in all of the cases examined, the same group characteristics occurred again and again; the group was very cohesive, there was great pressure for uniformity, there was significant time pressure, the group were insulated from outsiders, and the leader had a preferred solution.

Managers can, however, take steps to offset the possibility of Group Think, including;

  • Actively encouraging divergent points of view from outside the group
  • Recognising, respecting and valuing resistance of group members when decisions are being made
  • Not making his/her preferred solution known until after the group has discussed the matter and each member has formed their own opinion


Finally, with their recent surge in growth, the management of virtual teams has become increasingly important in organisations. Virtual teams are, by definition, formal groups with common goals (similar to traditional work teams) but they tend to be dispersed, be it culturally, geographically or temporally, and therefore much of their communication is conducted via I.T. As conflict in virtual teams can be quite high initially, because of teething problems regarding I.T. equipment and role clarification, the role of the manager is crucially important.

In order to support the acculturation process of virtual teams and maximise potential benefits managers should;

  • Bring virtual team members together at the beginning of the project (if feasible)
  • Encourage team members to learn some personal information about fellow members to foster a sense of team cohesiveness
  • Promote regular team discussions and encourage the progressive sharing of information among team members
  • Be aware of any cultural differences, avoid stereotyping and show respect for different views
  • Continually update members on how the overall project is progressing
  • Train team members in linguistic precision of communication in the absence of body language (so that small misunderstandings don’t escalate into team conflict)
  • Encourage the development of trust and respect among team members as this will promote positive and supportive relationships (this is especially important for virtual teams because of the absence of face-to-face contact)
  • Clarify individual member’s roles within the team
  • Set clear and specific goals at a team and individual level and, importantly, provide feedback on level of success in achieving predefined goals


Few people would challenge the proposition that teams produce better quality results than individuals working alone. However, to capitalise on the benefits of effective team working, teams need strong management. This involves setting clear goals, providing regular and specific feedback, assigning accountability and ownership and promoting communication ‒ and this is likely to become ever increasingly important for managers of teams in challenging times.

To learn more about Team Building Initiatives or any of our other services, please contact the office: +353-1-6688891 or

Discover how DavittCorporatePartners can help you to:

Develop Leadership in Your Organisation

Win the War for Talent

Realise Individual Potential

Align Behaviour with Corporate Values

Aoife Harrington is a Consultant at DavittCorporatePartners – Corporate Psychologists

Introverted Executives – Understanding Your Type & Strategies for Optimal Performance

Introverted Executives – Understanding Your Type
& Strategies for Optimal Performance – Aoife Harrington

According to eminent psychologist Carl Jung, people are innately different in the way they prefer to do things and one key dichotomy on which people’s preferences tend to vary is Extraversion versus Introversion. Jung’s typology theory purports that an individual’s natural preference for one of these functions over the other leads them to direct energy towards it and to develop behaviours and personality patterns characteristic of that function. In the context of organisational effectiveness, Jung’s theory, and more specifically his research around extraversion/introversion preferences, has significant implications and indeed applications in terms of executive behaviour.

Importantly, for the purpose of this paper, the words introvert and extravert should not be confused with popular ideas of these concepts, e.g. shyness versus sociability. According to Jung’s research (and the consequential development of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator – MBTI) extraverts prefer to focus on the outer world of people and activities, directing their energy and attention outward and feeding off the energy gleaned from interacting with people. By contrast, introverts prefer to focus on their own inner world of ideas and experiences, directing their energy inwards and receiving energy from reflecting on their thoughts and feeling.

Forging strong working relationships, building networks, communicating vision and profiling oneself within the organisation represent a significant aspect of an executive’s daily routine. Talking, networking and interacting, however, are concepts with significantly more appeal to extraverted types than introverted types. As outlined above, extraverts are energised through interactions with others while introverts are energised by introspection and time spent alone, thus they often tend to be left with a dearth of energy following interpersonal encounters. Furthermore, the level of energy consumption and consequential feeling of mental fatigue is directly related to the frequency and intensity of such encounters, highlighting the need for introverts to manage their level of interaction with others.

So what does this mean for introverted executives functioning in the largely extraversion-dominated business world? For limited periods of time, introverts can be just as effective as extraverts at performing the ‘relating to people’ functions of their daily routine. Over the long haul, however, they must find ways to leverage their strengths and be true to their personality types. Some key strategies that can support and facilitate this process are outlined below;

  1. Self-awareness: Truly understanding the theory of introversion as defined in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is a good first step. The MBTI is one of the most frequently used self-report assessment tools in leadership development initiatives around the world as it provides invaluable information about a person’s preferred way of behaving and as such can be very beneficial for building self-awareness. Not only will becoming more familiar with Type Theory help to clarify what having an introversion preference entails, it should also enlighten introverts as to the ways in which their extraverted colleagues are likely to approach similar tasks.
  2. Creating Solitude: It is essential that the introverted executive develops strategies for creating solitude even in the midst of busy organisational life. Taking time out should serve to fuel creativity, decision-making and thinking, thus allowing the introverted executive to be responsive rather than reactive in challenging and pressurised situations. This can be achieved by blocking out quiet time on your calendar so you don’t become overwhelmed with meetings and conversations. Find opportunities to be alone with your thoughts every day, even for a brief period of time. Walk around the office complex at lunch or listen to soothing music during your commute perhaps. (Remember introverts draw energy from quiet time; extraverts draw their energy from other people.).
  3. Contribution in Meetings: Interestingly, because introverts tend to offer few non-verbal cues about what’s going on inside their heads, extraverts often misinterpret this as lack of interest or involvement in the topic under discussion. In terms of managing your type in meetings, it can be useful for introverted executives to be armed with one or two insightful questions when entering meetings where they are not the facilitator. If you’re not ready to state a position, ask a question so you are seen as making an impact and are interested in what’s going on.
  4. Communicating Information: Introverts are often more comfortable stating a position in writing rather than face-to-face, as it gives them the time to think through ideas before airing them in public. If it’s effective in your organisation to use email for advocacy, perhaps try that. In fact, in the age of social networking, introverted executives can leverage their preference for written communication to connect with employees at a virtual level (e.g. via Intranet or blogs). If this option is not ideal and you are required to make your point in a conversation or a meeting, outline your thoughts beforehand so you’ll feel prepared. Consult meeting agendas so that you know in advance what’s going to be discussed and take the time to think through your contributions before the meeting begins.
  5. Getting your Point Across: Turn up the intensity, not the volume. Practice speaking up with conviction and clarity, not volume or length. The loudest person rarely makes the best contribution. People will pay attention and soon realise that your well-thought out contributions can add significant value to the discussion.
  6. Promoting Self-awareness in Others: Promoting your team’s understanding and appreciation of personality and communications style differences can be a very effective strategy for ensuring you own, and your team’s, optimal performance. It should help them to appreciate you for who you are and the process should also help you to better understand them, their needs and their preferences.

Essentially, there are merits to both styles of preference, introversion and extraversion, and, equally, pitfalls. Extraverted leaders often make quick decisions and move into action, sometimes before enough time for reflection and analysis while introverted leaders may continue to reflect when it is time for action and their preference for internal processing may exclude others. The key message to take home, however, is that the business world is very much extraversion-orientated and therefore the key to optimal performance is for the introverted executive to develop strategies to cope in such an environment. Introverts can add untold value to executive level roles; a calm resolution in crisis situations, analytical problem solving, calculated risk-taking, reflective thought processes and attention to detail.

In business, personality does matter but it’s not about becoming something you’re not – it’s about becoming more effective at being who you are.

To learn more about our Leadership Programmes or any of our other services, please contact the office: +353-1-6688891 or

Discover how DavittCorporatePartners can help you to:

Develop Leadership in Your Organisation

Win the War for Talent

Realise Individual Potential

Align Behaviour with Corporate Values

Aoife Harrington is a Consultant at DavittCorporatePartners – Corporate Psychologists

Personality Profiling in Organisations – a Requisite for Success

Personality Profiling in Organisations – a Requisite for Success?
by Aoife Harrington

The study of personality represents one of the largest areas of research within the entire discipline of psychology and one that has great significance in terms of its applications in a variety of organisational domains. Personality can be broadly defined as an enduring style of thinking, feeling and behaving that reflects how each person adjusts to their environment. Essentially, by studying personality, it is hoped to achieve a greater insight into how better to understand and predict human behaviour.

A long tradition of research in psychology and organisational behaviour has attempted to link personality characteristics to job success. Models of personality are used in many organisational domains, including; selection and assessment, performance evaluation, organisational commitment, team-working, alleviating workplace stress, and management development, to name but a few. Several researchers have cited a link between personality and occupational success (e.g. Barrick & Mount, 1991) with job performance, turnover, expatriate success, leadership and promotion all reportedly linked to an individual’s personality (e.g. Hurtz & Donovan, 2000; Judge et al., 2002; Salgado, 1997).

For organisations, personality is, most importantly, a major criterion for selection of applicants. Mullins (1999) highlights, that it is quite rare for an organisation not to take personality into account when selecting the right person for the job. However, while it is generally undisputed that personality is a key criterion for job success, how it is actually assessed or measured varies widely. Many organisations and more specifically selection committees rely solely on first impressions, intuition and gut feelings to ascertain a candidate’s personality and their suitability for a particular role. Research has shown, however, that traditional unstructured interview’s have poor reliability and validity in predicting job performance (Hunter & Hunter, 1984; Smith & Williams, 1992) and do not serve as a valid means of assessing a candidates personality. On the other hand, what research has consistently found is that using psychometrically robust personality inventories can make selection decisions more systematic and precise (Smith & Smith, 2005). In fact, Black (2000) reported that, in selection and assessment, personality had good incremental validity, over and above general cognitive ability, thus illustrating the importance of incorporating personality profiling in selection decisions. Essentially it makes sense for organisations that devote substantial resources to establishing and maintaining a good fit between people and their jobs to begin this process at the time of selection.

Regardless of how one conceptualises personality there is one thing that is certain – personality is enduring, it is consistent across situations and by ascertaining a person’s personality we should be able to predict their likely future behaviour. In organisational terms this means being better equipped to predict job performance, potential for promotion, the likelihood of a seamless transition into a new team and the list goes on. Employing psychometrically robust personality inventories is therefore an obvious choice. Not only do personality inventories offer an objective means for measuring and comparing candidates’ personalities, they represent a very accessible, flexible and effective addition to selection decisions and in fact to any number of organisational initiatives. Personality inventories are a reliable and objective means of establishing information about candidates that is directly related to the way they are likely to perform in a job and the information obtained is very much complementary to other selection methods employed, thus improving the validity of the overall selection process. Research has also demonstrated the utility of personality inventories in stimulating discussion and increasing awareness on the strengths each individual employee has and the unique qualities and competencies they can bring to their role, thus making them an excellent source of information in leadership development programmes, mentoring and coaching programmes and management and training initiatives.

Fundamentally, personality inventories are an invaluable tool in both selection and development contexts and if correctly administered and interpreted can be a very effective means of ensuring continuing organisational success. So whether you’re looking for innovation, leadership, decisiveness, resilience or relationship-building skills, personality profiling can provide you with accurate and objective information – a resource not to be underestimated!

To learn more about Personality Profiling or any of our other services, please contact the office: +353-1-6688891 or

Discover how DavittCorporatePartners can help you to:

Develop Leadership in Your Organisation

Win the War for Talent

Realise Individual Potential

Align Behaviour with Corporate Values

Aoife Harrington is a Consultant at DavittCorporatePartners – Corporate Psychologists


Barrick, M.R., & Mount, M.K. (1991). The big five personality dimensions and job performance: A meta-analysis. Personnel Psychology, 44, 1–26.

Black, J. (2000). Personality testing and police selection: Utility of the big five. New Zealand Journal of Psychology, 29(1), 2-9.

Hunter, J.E., & Hunter, R.F. (1984). Validity and utility of alternative predictors of job performance. Psychological Bulletin, 96, 72-92.

Hurtz, G.M., & Donovan, J.J. (2000). Personality and job performance: The big five revisited. Journal of Applied Psychology, 85, 869–879.

Judge, T., Bono, J., Ilies, R., & Gerhardt, M. (2002). Personality and leadership: A qualitative and quantitative review. Journal of Applied Psychology, 87, 765–780.

Mullins, L.J. (1999). Management and organisational behaviour, 5th edition. London: Pitman Publishing.

Salgado, J.F. (1997). The five-factor model of personality and job performance in the European Community. Journal of Applied Psychology, 82, 30-43.

Smith, M, & Smith, P. (2005). Testing people at work: Competencies in psychometric testing. Oxford: Blackwell.

Smith, T.W., & Williams, P.G. (1992). Personality and health: Advantages and limitations of the FFM. Journal of Personality, 60(2), 395-423

Outplacement – a worthwhile investment?

Outplacement – a worthwhile investment? by David Keane

In a word, Yes. An investment in a first-class Outplacement Programme can yield substantial returns – something that is all too rare in the current climate.

Many organisations choose not to run Outplacement Programmes as they think not doing so is another way to save money in addition to downsizing. The problem however is the ancillary loss in productivity that can come with this type of organisational upheaval. For example, turnover and absenteeism amongst remaining staff can significantly increase after downsizing or redundancies and turnover and absenteeism have been shown time and again to have a significantly negative effect on productivity.

An effective Outplacement Programme can begin to address some of these problems before they become too damaging. An effective Outplacement Programmes does not just begin after the event – providers assist the client from beginning to end – from pre-event advice and planning, to on-site presence when the news is delivered to staff, to follow-up coaching and support throughout the job-search process.

Losing your job is one of the most challenging events a person will ever have to experience in their lifetime. An effective Outplacement Programme works with people to help them deal with it and move on. With encouragement, interviewing practice, and regular coaching sessions, providers can help people deal with their fears and develop important job-finding skills. Having accepted their former employer’s circumstances and decisions, people are coached through the process—often reducing the job search time and often improving the kind of jobs they find, as well as giving them the tools necessary to move ahead in their careers.

Effective Outplacement Programmes steer former employees through the job search process and prepare them for future job changes. Clients are matched with an individual coach who serves as a point of contact, supplier of advice, and source of motivation. With a personal coach encouraging them, people can explore their strengths, learn new skills, reshape career paths, and move on more successfully to their next positions. Their CVs are prepared in a professional manner. They practice and sharpen interview skills. They find equivalent or better jobs faster than they would if left unassisted to manage this complex and challenging set of circumstances.

Clearly all Outplacement providers are not the same. An effective Outplacement provider should be able to understand the unique challenges faced by each individual organisation with whom they work. Ineffective Outplacement Programmes do little more than leave people feeling frustrated, helpless, and bitter toward the former employer. While the initial outlay may render a saving, organisations are warned against choosing the cheap option when it comes to selecting an Outplacement provider.

As providers of effective Outplacement programmes, we work to understand each company’s culture, objectives, and needs, just as we seek to understand each individual’s beliefs, goals, and aspirations. This understanding then forms the platform for a successful process. And we strive for the smoothest transition possible by avoiding the potential pitfalls of a poorly managed redundancy or rationalisation programme.

To learn more about our Outplacement Programmes or any of our other services, please contact the office: +353-1-6688891 or

Discover how DavittCorporatePartners can help you to:

Develop Leadership in Your Organisation

Win the War for Talent

Realise Individual Potential

Align Behaviour with Corporate Values


David Keane is a Director at DavittCorporatePartners – Corporate Psychologists

Emotional Capitalists – The New Leaders

Emotional Capitalists – The New Leaders

DavittCorporatePartners is pleased to announce that world-renowned expert on Leadership and Emotional Intelligence, Dr. Martyn Newman is returning to Ireland for a series of events in late October / early November 2009.

Dr Newman will be available to deliver a one-day Emotional Capital Leadership Programme in-house. Anyone who wishes to avail of this opportunity should contact us to book a date.

Following the success of our breakfast seminar in the Four Seasons last year, Dr. Newman will also be delivering a more in-depth public half-day workshop. This will be a perfect follow on for anyone who attended the Four Seasons but also for anyone who is new to Dr. Newman and his work. Please contact us to record your interest in this event.

Tel: +353-1-6688891 or

More information: click here