CorporateCoach eNewsletter

Issue No. 67, 12th July 2004


  1. Editorial: When to use eye contact
  2. Coaching notes: Coaching the alpha male

1.     Editorial: When to use eye contact

I have been studying the video of Monty Roberts, "Join Up", having previously read his book. It is fascinating how he is able to relate to and attract a wild horse by using body language he has learned from observing mustangs. He can also do it with deer. A key part is the use of eye contact. If he wants to relate to the horse and attract it towards him he must avoid eye contact. Consider; what do most people do when they want to make friends with a horse? They go up to it, look it in the eye and pat it on the nose. Based on what we do with humans, but not correct for horses – omit the eye contact.

I was interested, therefore, when studying relationships last week with Michael Grinder, that he should say that when giving a command (especially to a teenager), we should avoid eye contact. Eye contact is great for relating but bad for managing – it implies the person is a 'bad person'.

He further suggested that if we include a standard action with our command we can soon communicate the command by body language alone – thus reducing the resistance generated by 'being told'. Not only useful with teenagers, he said, but in business meetings too.

However, proper use of eye contact is important. Avoiding eye contact can give an impression of shiftiness. A short eye contact, then looking away, is a component of flirting, attracting someone's attention. A prolonged stare has the opposite effect. The skill is to know when to use eye contact and how long to hold the gaze.

Here is a list from John Bittleston: -

  • When you meet someone for the first time
  • When negotiations and discussions get tricky
  • When you have to fire someone
  • When you are holding a meeting
  • When you are congratulating someone
  • Whenever you say goodbye to someone

I have been investigating hotels for my trip to Asia. I can remember ten years ago being impressed that I could arrange my insurance from a car park using my car phone – a heavy box fitted in the boot of the car and wired through to the handset. Now I can arrange hotels and flights, purchase books and investigate all sorts of matters over the Internet – from my office or a coffee shop. Very soon I shall also be able to do it from my car as 3G telephony is rolled out. And soon I shall be able to replace my typing with voice recognition. Already we are using voice over Internet for international communication. Huge progress in a decade.

I have been facilitating a major scenario planning exercise for a UK utility. What will technology have to offer in an other ten years? More significantly, what processes do you have for ensuring that your organisation manages progress – both opportunities and threats? Are you responding now? What will be the impact on your organisation in three, let alone ten years?


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2.    Coaching notes: Coaching the alpha male
Source: Harvard Business Review, May 2004, Kate Ludeman and Eddie Erlandson

I strongly recommend this article form the Harvard Business Review. It is downloadable for $6.00. Here is a synopsis.

Most people feel stress when they have to make important decisions; alphas get stressed when tough decisions don’t rest in their capable hands. Alphas think very fast, and this rapid processing can prevent them from listening to others – especially those who don’t communicate in alphaspeak. Their impatience can cause them to miss subtle but important details. Alphas, moreover, have opinions about everything, and they rarely admit that those opinions might be wrong or incomplete.

Alphas make perfect mid-level managers, where their primary role is to oversee processes. But as they approach CEO level, they’re expected to become inspirational people managers. Unfortunately, most organisations aren’t good at helping alphas make the required transition, which can be the greatest challenge of their careers. Alphas require skilled coaches because it’s difficult for them to ask for help or even to acknowledge that they need it.

The coach’s challenge is to preserve an alpha’s strengths while correcting his weaknesses. Coaches shouldn’t undermine the alpha’s focus on results; they should improve the process for achieving them. For the alpha, that distinction is of paramount importance.

The coach doesn’t have to be an alpha, but it helps to share characteristics such as an analytical orientation and a direct style of communication. The executive coach best suited to alphas has lots of experience handling superstars and standing up to bullies.

When executive coaches fail to help alphas and their organisations, it’s often because they fall into one of three traps: -

  • First, some coaches make the mistake of playing “loose and light” – that is, they come across as too passive, simply reacting anecdotally to the alpha by falling back on their own non-executive experience and perspective. If an alpha believes his coach plans to turn him into an oversensitive wimp, he’ll never give the coach a chance.
  • A second trap coaches fall into is excessive secrecy. Coaches understandably want to maintain a high degree of confidentiality during their work. However, it is only by seeking input from co-workers that the coach can understand the issues surrounding the alpha’s behaviour - and only by talking openly about his commitment to change can the alpha turn around the pervasive organisational distrust he has created.
  • The third trap is to show deference – to kowtow. This can be the difference between establishing a constructive relationship or an irrelevant one.

The right way to coach alpha males

Get his attention. The best way to capture an alpha male’s attention is with data – copious, credible, consistent data. That’s why 360 degree feedback is vital – to provide undeniable proof that his behaviour (to which he is much attached) doesn’t work nearly as well as he thinks it does. A 360 degree feedback is a wake-up call to most alphas.

Demand his commitment. Clarify his intention with two simple questions: Do you want to change? Are you willing to do whatever it takes, including allowing the coach to help you?

Speak his language. Since alphas think in charts, graphs and metrics, for maximum impact, present the data that way – in alphaspeak.

Hit him hard enough to hurt. Since they believe in “no pain, no gain,” they respond remarkably well to hard-hitting language. Regulate the level of pain, keeping it high enough to get their full attention but also presenting the changes as attainable. This can be the point at which lip service gives way to genuine understanding.

Engage his curiosity and competitive instincts. Introduce tools and check lists he can use to monitor his behaviour, models of how alphas tend to operate. Encourage him to monitor his behaviour to see how quickly he can shift to a more open frame of mind and improved behaviour.



Here are some dates when I shall be travelling to meet subscribers and potential business partners. If you would like to meet me, please contact me.

  • 22-28 July, Dubai, UAE - Crowne Plaza Hotel
  • 29-31 July, Mumbai, India - Taj Mahal Palace and Tower
  • 2-4 August, Singapore - Robertson Quay Hotel
  • 6-10 August, Melbourne, Australia
  • 19-22 Sydney, Australia

We aim to make the Brefi Group web site the premier developmental site for teams and individuals in organisations, so do please send us your suggestions and requests for further development. And let us know what you think of this newsletter, and comment on the content.

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We hope you enjoyed this issue of CorporateCoach. If you would like to learn more about how we can work together, then please contact me, Richard Winfield:

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