The Challenges of Centralized Decision Making
If you’re always sure that your ideas are on target, you’re flirting with arrogance and carelessness. Conversely if you’re constantly questioning your actions, you likely lack conviction and/or confidence to push the start button. In either case, I offer this question: Who is your Sounding Board?
Who can you go to to air your ideas and aspirations? Who can help you to avoid both arrogant, misguided actions as well as wasting valuable time with excessive vacillation?
What Exactly is a Sounding Board?
Let’s examine some common definitions that apply to executive decision making and problem solving.
A sounding board is a good listener, and either confirms what they hear or offers an opinion when the sound they hear is “off key”. – Urban Dictionary
A person or group whose reactions to suggested ideas are used as a test of their validity or likely success before they are made public. – Google
A person or group with whom you discuss ideas to see if the ideas are good – Merriam-Webster
In some cases a sounding board takes the form of a test market or focus group. These outsiders have a different frame of reference that you may lack. And they’re willing to share it. We often seek the perspectives of our customers. When doing so, just remember the advise of Henry Ford.
“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
The Value of a Sounding Board
Imagine your next idea for a potentially important course of action. Should the idea be filtered or refined? Or, should you courageously and confidently launch it? A sounding board can provide added perspective for both deeper examination that may or may not result validation. In either case, you gain greater clarity on a course of action.
The Executive Coach’s Role as a Sounding Board
Once you’ve developed a working relationship with an executive coach, the coach gains a unique and unbiased understanding of:
- Your role in your job
- Your important professional and personal goals
- Your cast of characters: team members and superiors
- Your Motivators and Drivers
- Your Decision Making Style
- Your tendency to either value either tasks over people or people over tasks
- Your limiting beliefs; both past and present
Armed with this insight, a professional coach has unique qualifications as a sounding board. And ideally, a coach has developed the skills necessary to help clients to find both insight and determination needed to execute more effectively.
Coaching: No Advise Allowed?
There are three Sounding Board Approaches:
- A combination of both
There is a school of thought in the certified coaches community that a professional coach should NEVER offer an opinion to a client. Furthermore, any so-called coach that does offer opinions should be classified as a consultant. Not as a coach. The assumption with the questions-only approach is that the answer always lies within. And a coach with dynamic inquiry skills will challenge the client to both uncover his or her own best answers.
Who really has a better frame of reference on the challenge: an insider or an outsider?
The disciplined coach’s answer is: “It depends” Followed by questions about the variables.
My School of Thought
I concede that I’ve been trained and certified in a discipline called Dynamic Inquiry, It’s a non-advisory Socratic approach to coach-client interaction. It’s proven to be highly effective in getting clients to both own their decisions and act on them.
Do I use this approach 100% of the time in my sounding board interactions? I confess that I don’t. Why not?
- Sometimes that assumption isn’t true. The answer does NOT lie within. And when I sense that the student is ready, the teacher in me will appear. Ready students are inclined to commit to action, as well.
- Executive Coaching Clients expect to tap into the experience of someone who’s been there and done that. And someone with an understanding of human motivation and behavior.
Decades of executive experience and learning can and do have value. There are times when that insight is more efficiently delivered without extensive probing inquiry.
As you seek to use a sounding board for your important initiatives, you should ask yourself…
Should I seek a sounding board with qualified opinions or insightful probing questions?
Again my PC coach’s answer is: “it depends: What are you unclear about?”
I believe you should use whatever approach that will facilitate the clarity that you need to commit to the Right Action. Given a choice: Why not take advantage of both?
Sounding Board Words of Wisdom from Woodrow Wilson
“I not only use all the brains I have but all that I can borrow.”