It all started with my English Language exam failure. English wasn’t my best subject and although I’d done very well in everything else – including English Literature – I’d managed to fail the pre-Christmas English Language examination, and then the Summer one too. I wanted to go to University and without English Language I wasn’t going to be admitted. So, I really needed to pass the next exam.
My form tutor couldn’t work out what the problem was. There was no obvious reason for my failure. So I was referred to the head of the English department – Mr Morgan – for counselling.
Mr Morgan was ‘old school’. He’d been my English Literature teacher and introduced me to Shakespeare and Dylan Thomas. With his strong Welsh accent and deep booming voice he was a formidable character … I found him very intimidating. Arriving at his office I was expecting to get a dressing down, instead my experience was quite different.
To begin with he listened to what I wanted to achieve. And he talked with me about how well I’d done in all the other subjects. He asked questions about what I enjoyed most and about my future goals.
He then asked me about the English Language paper and which questions I’d chosen. Once he’d thoroughly taken in what I told him. He paused. This is what he said to me.
“You’re a scientist. You’re writing the wrong essays. In the next exam don’t choose a narrative and storytelling subject. That’s what’s killing your chance of passing. Instead choose the essay where you have to compare and contrast, or the one where you’re asked to put forward pros and cons. That will play to your logical nature and strengths as a scientist.”
So, in the Spring I took the English Language exam again. I chose a pros and cons question. I passed. Not a scrape-through pass, but a grade A+. Yes, you read that correctly I went from being a failure to passing the exam with the highest possible grade.
That single intervention and counselling session with Mr Morgan was enough. I didn’t need extra tuition. All I needed was to apply the best strategy for me.
Nowadays I find the same thing is true when I’m helping my clients win projects. They need the best strategy for them. Not my preferred way of working … but something that matches their strengths and capabilities.
Like Mr Morgan, I draw together all the disparate information clients give me, then recognise the patterns. That allows me to get to the essence quickly and make a useful intervention. That’s normally just naming what’s going on and what my clients might do next.
Earlier this week my attention was drawn to this again. This is a paragraph from the book Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise by Anders Ericsson. (Thanks Stuart.)
“In pretty much every area, a hallmark of expert performance is the ability to see patterns in a collection of things that would seem random or confusing to people with less developed mental representations (experts see wood where other see trees).”
That’s exactly what Mr Morgan did with my English Language exam results. And it’s precisely what I try to do with my coaching clients. Done well it adds value way beyond anything else.
With this in mind I’d like you to think about your own practice. What patterns do you see in the things your clients tell you about their business? Do you name those patterns in a way that makes a useful distinction, something the client can benefit from and act on?
This ability to recognise and name patterns can help distinguish you from other consultants in your field. It gives clients confidence and proof that you ‘get’ their specific situation. In my opinion distinction naming is the ultimate competitive edge, and a most effective way to show you’re an authority, without relying on content or credentials.
Give it a try and see how you get on.