Prison Guards, labels and personality profiles

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The media was focussing on the Prison service over the weekend but something, in particular, caught my eye. The Prisons Minister outlined plans to make Prison Guards responsible for what almost sounded like mentoring and counselling of prisoners. My first reaction was a predictable one. How on earth can you have someone who one minute is locking doors and administering discipline and then a warm and fluffy counsellor, pointing hardened criminals to a better way of being? This sounded like a typical government policy trying to get public sector employees to do more for less.

Then I remembered the work I have been doing.


Isn’t this what you want for yourself, and from your team? The ability to effortlessly embrace any number of tasks and situations, using good commercial judgement and plain old common sense.


What are the prison officers really being asked to do? In addition to their custodial role they are being asked to provide counsel and encouragement to prisoners. This feels like me to be one of the most natural things to ask of a human being. Sure there may be some skills and tips that they can be provided with but there is nothing that is beyond their ability to acquire and develop.


Same with your people. You want them to be technically competent and productive. But you also want them to be commercially aware and to confidently build and maintain relationship with their customers, suppliers and each other.


But in reality most people tend to orient towards behaviours and activities they are most comfortable with. As we grow up we ‘learn’ various things about ourselves through a combination of parenting, schooling, developing friendships and our experimentation with life. We ‘learn’ what we like and don’t like and will and won’t do.


We create a perimeter around ourselves that keeps us safe from rejection and failure. This explains why people often shy away from interactions with strangers (or angry customers) and show a reluctance to take responsibility. We create labels to define ourselves and we shape values and beliefs by which we navigate the world.


And as a coach for a number of years I added to the problem.


The curse of the DISC profile


The problem with labels is that they tend to stick. When I first became a coach I used to use DISC profiling as a way of helping people to raise their self awareness. If you are not familiar with DISC it’s a profiling system that uses your answers to a series of questions to measure your style across two spectrums:

  • The extent to which you are an introvert or an extrovert
  • The extent to which your focus is towards task or people


When a DISC profile was run it labelled you with a primary and secondary style based on the four defined styles: Dominant, Influencer, Steadiness and Conscientious. This gave my clients an insight into how they showed up and how they were likely to be perceived by others. Sounds like useful stuff eh? But the problem is it simply provides the recipient with more labels to use as an excuse for their poor performance or to beat themselves up with (the amount of times I heard someone say ‘what do you expect. I’m a high D!’).


When I was in my early twenties and working at Tesco I was selected for their three week Management Development program. A key component in this program was the use of a profiling tool where my style and behaviours were profiled by me, my managers and my peers.


I remember being deeply troubled by the disparities in the results. It seemed my natural extrovert and dynamic (perhaps loud) nature was not well appreciated by my colleagues. This was the beginning of a long journey in the wrong direction, as I wrestled with trying to be how I thought I was supposed to be. With every self improvement step I moved further away from my true nature.


The fact I had such an incredibly successful corporate career happened, in spite of this, not because of it. It wasn’t until just a few years ago that I was finally able to let go of all the layers of nonsense I had built up around me, so that I was truly available, at my best.


The Real truth about you and your people


The opening position with anyone is simple. You are capable of anything and you have everything that you need in order to be highly performant in business. Also you are continually evolving you understanding of yourself as you move in the world.


The challenge is that you have become so attached to your stories about yourself and the way the world you live in works, that you can no longer access the full breadth and depth of your capabilities. The real performant and capable you, is buried in all of this.


The work I do often seems complex and multi-faceted, primarily because I use lots of stories and metaphors. But, in reality I’m only ever pointing at one simple idea. The stories and beliefs by which you have run your business and lived your life, are not real, or static. This opens up the opportunity for you to see and operate beyond them. As you develop this mental capacity, in yourself and your team, you begin to access levels of confidence, connection, clarity and creativity that you simply did not realise you had. Business results effortlessly flow from this place.


Just think where could you take your business and your life if you were free of the self imposed cage that you have built around you?


It took a great mentor, and the last three years, to stop me getting in my own way and to show me who I was when I really showed up. Since then my results have been much, much better than they ever were during my ActionCOACH days.


If there is one sound bite to take away from this piece it is;


Deepen your understanding of your true nature and then show up as THAT person.


I’m not going back to working in the old coaching model and I’ll never use a profiling tool again. Its not the best use of your money or my focus. But if you want to explore how much easier it can be to create great business results then keep tuned in over the coming months. We are going under the bonnet of you, the business owner and your team. It might feel a bit messy, and your gonna feel a little confused at times, but we are going to de-clog the engine and get things running smoothly.


Here if you want to talk