Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Mental models – Dissertation by Mia Dragostin


About Mia Dragostin

An investigation on self-theories and thinking styles of line managers with coaching duties

“The only thing we know about the future is that it will be different”. (Peter Drucker)


The present paper explores the self-theories and thinking styles of line managers who have coaching duties. As coaching by line managers is considered to be an important trend for training and development Human Resources (HR) strategies, the paper brings to the attention of the reader a review of literature and the results of a field research.

The conclusion of the paper is that the mental models of the line managers with coaching duties, as they are revealed using the research criteria of self-theory and thinking styles models, could help understand what and where some of the barriers to continuous learning and to organizational development are.

Chapter I

The coaching duties of line managers

1.1. Overview on coaching by line managers an UK overview

The orientation of organizations towards coaching - which tends to be considered as an important learning and development strategy, is no longer just a trend.

CIPD (2007) annual report reveals the facts. The role of line managers in learning and development activity of the organization is considered as ‘important’ and ‘very important’ by 90% of the survey’s respondents. CIPD (2008) report confirms the role of line managers as being involved (86% of them) in determining the learning and development needs.

Coaching by line managers is frequently used by 30% of the survey’s respondents, a percentage far away of the 81% who use on-the job training, or 43% of the instructor-led off job delivered courses, to note only a few of the learning and development type of activities met in an organization. In 2008 the CIPD report 36% of the respondents indicate that main responsibility for coaching stays with line managers; compared with 30% of coaching responsibilities belonging to HR and training and development specialists proves that coaching by line managers is invested by organization with a lot of objectives, hopes, and expectations.

Even if the present figures might not convince reader of an extended use of coaching by line managers, in 2007, 73 % of the respondents want to use in the future more coaching by line managers as main learning and development activity (CIPD, 2007), . The same tendency of ‘weaving coaching into the fabric of the organization’ is observed by Alexander (2001, p.146), and engaging coaching in business strategy is considered by Alexander ‘as a major contributor to competitive advantage’ (ibid.).

It can be concluded that coaching is seen as part of the new role of the line managers, especially as businesses seem to prefer internal capability for coaching to an external one (Alexander, 2001).

But when the report reveals that only 2% of the respondents train all their line managers to coach, and 17% of respondents train the majority of line managers to coach, some questions regarding the quality and content of coaching arise:

  • What is the content, goals and methods of coaching by line managers?
  • Is there any method of determining the effectiveness of coaching?
  • Is it possible to believe that coaching received from without proper training can attain the declared goals?
  • Is it possible to think that all line managers are able to coach effectively, if coaching is a part of general duties of line managers?

The concern is even greater when professionals – for instance Downey (2001) – reveal that for someone wishing to become a coach, ‘there is not much training and development available’ (Downey, 2001, p.103). This observation refers to coaching as profession, so I could infer that the lack of training for coaching as a part of line managers’ duties might have received even less attention. It is important to note that the observation comes from a person working with The School of Coaching, UK, so I assume that this is an informed piece of information.

Regarding the quality of the training of coaches, Downey suggests that the majority of formal programs is structured on commercial basis, i.e. on what market would pay for, and not on what a coach needs to develop its competency.

1.2. Is it coaching compatible with other duties of a line manager?

According to Downey (2001) the content of training for becoming a coach refers to acquiring following skills:

  • Generate understanding and raise awareness; this skill aims to train the coach to understand themselves, or as Downey (2001, p.108) says: ‘to understand, not to solve, fix, heal, make better or be wise – to understand’. My question is now: can in the real world a line manager easily and willingly switch his/her focus from problem solving to simple understanding?
  • Adding; this skill would enable the coach to make suggestions leaving the coachee the choice to add or not to their personal view coach’s insights. With the pressure exerted by the ‘boss’ position of the coach, is it wise to imagine that coachee can refuse more than once what a coach suggests, without jeopardizing his/her job and present or future position?
  • Managing self; this skill enables the coach to keep in separate ‘envelopes’ own personal judgments, irrelevant for coachee and those which are relevant and useful for coachee’s training and development. Kilburg (2000) believes as well that ‘consultants (which I would assimilate with coaches – my note) must have at least a rudimentary understanding of the nature and extent to which unconscious forces shape behavior for individuals, groups, and organizations. I also believe that consultants must be able to manage their own emotional and psychodynamic responses to clients.’ (Kilburg, 2000, p.16-17). My question is: how much are line managers trained in this extremely sensitive aspect of human life.

Acknowledging the boundaries between personal and professional issues, between coaching and deeper need of therapy is indicated by Downey of maximal importance for a coach who is supposed to maintain ‘equilibrium, judgment and distance’ (Downey, 2001, p.108). This contradicts, in my opinion, with the fact that a coach has an agenda imposed by organization: wouldn’t the breaking of the boundaries be the easiest way to achieve that agenda, especially when the coaching is under clear and measured performance goals?

  • Building relationship; Downey explains that the result of acquiring this skill is the creation of a safe environment where the coachee does not feel judged. If the coach is the superior line manager, can he or she not be judgmental, especially if their main goal is to correct or improve coachee’s behavior? The same concern is expressed by Alexander (2001) who finds the line manager as coach ‘an unhappy conjunction at best ‘(p.150). More, Alexander suggests that boss/subordinate relationship cannot assure the trust, openness and honesty required by a coach/coachee relationship, and in the same time does not provide the ‘safe’ place, ‘supportive, yet challenging’ (p.150) in a natural and statistically widespread way.
  • Understanding organizational context; by mastering this skill, a coach understands the requests of the sponsoring company and distinguishes them of those of his client. Are the line managers able to easily make this difference? The politics of the company could enable them to put the coachee first? Alexander (2001) believes that ‘managers as coaches’ could override this dilemma by simply understanding that the best interest of company and of his own goals is achieved by coaching/developing the employee to his/her best interest. More, Alexander advocates that coaching should not be an occasional activity, but a style of management, which would daily record and discuss the ‘achievement of objectives’ (Alexander, 2001, p. 151).

Despite the discrepancies I argue exist between the competencies requires by the role of line manager in a business and the role of coach, the CIPD (2008) report indicate that 72% of organizations ‘feel that coaching is very or fairly effective (CIPD, 2008, p. 19).

If the line manager as coach needs more than the expertise of his profession that made him /her manager - ‘an attitude of mind that is enquiring and eager for further learning’ (Brooks, 2001, p.98), in this paper I want to explore this attitude of mind that line managers have when engaged in coaching.

1.3. What determines the need for coaching?

The CIPD report (2007) gives a global view on the efforts of coaching used as learning and development method.

What did generate this orientation towards coaching by line managers and made it so desirable for future?

Leitch report (2006) claims that an economy which cannot compete on natural resources and low labor costs (as the case of UK and many of the developed country is), needs to put new basis on services and high-value industry. But in order to access benefits of the service economy and high industry, there is an essential ingredient that needs to be added: people’s skills and knowledge.

UK’s economy took an early shift from resource economy to knowledge economy. To survive in a world where the global economy made the price of products drop at unprecedently low costs, one business needs to offer constantly new products or services with features meaningful for customers which thus are willing to pay the price.

In order to constantly ‘put’ on market new services, or high quality products, a business is obliged to have high standards for their services or innovative features to their products. The question is: who is producing these? Not a machine, as it was perceived before. To have high quality standards and innovative products a business must rely solely on the minds of their employees. The ‘minds of their employees’ means two things simultaneously: the skills and the will/desire to use these skills.

The importance of skills is clearly emphasized in Leitch report (2006) which considers that ‘an economy’s prosperity will be driven increasingly by its skills base’ (Leitch, 2006, p.12), while the motivation it is recognized as the most important factor which influences the drive for learning – the basis for skills acquiring and updating.

Considering the above, any business which aims to thrive into the new world economy, must be able to recruit the people with the skills they need, and must be able to keep them willing to use and develop their skills.

In order to keep their people willing and able, business made use of many streams of research and ideas: economics, sociology, psychology. Different development stages of the economy accepted and used diverse theories. Diversity is good, but when overloading information might generate confusion. Even more, the fact that old production paradigms (quantity driven - products) coexist with new paradigms (quality driven - innovation and services) makes the confusion greater and often the solution generated in one context cannot be used per se in a different one. The question: ‘What is to be done’ has not received yet a definitive answer.

1.4. New working environment

As we previously observed, at global level, there still are traditional working places where the workers serve the machines, where the employees act as a human part of a greater working entity, where the machine is more important and valued in the acco9untant books than its biological counterpart. Starting with the industrial revolution, humans were totally into serving the ‘God Machine’.

But in the 21st century new business environment, based largely on service and product innovation, the emphasize is no longer on machine, but on the value that each individual worker brings to the job.

This shift in the bearer of value generated a shift on the managerial styles as well. If in the machine driven era the management based on control was a normal and successful strategy, under the new conditions, the management style needs to take a deep psychological twist in strategy.

The value of employees rest no longer in what they can physically do as they are required through job description, but the value rests in what they can generate as behavior and ideas, things generally not described to the finest detail by job description.

When the content of work changes, the content of management has to alter as well: from the management of control to the management of psychological influence. The new managerial style should pay attention to the individual needs of the employees and this requires a highly customized approach, breaking the rule of standardization, of ‘one measure for all’. In the same time, running business demands predictability and accurate forecasting of the outcomes, the well-proven methods and standards being highly valued. Here we find a powerful contradiction that managers have to address: the need for control and predictability, found under the pressure of figures, and the need for flexibility which is the one that enables harnessing the employees’ personal contribution to the jobs. Lyons (2000) believes that a company can be efficient if it becomes a ‘learning company’, with a shift from product to service, from labor to knowledge, from routine to creative activity, from management to leadership, and he believes that this shift is enabled by coaching

In this paper I do not address the changes in control management generated by business environment, but I concentrate on changes brought in management by the ‘people factor’, the attention and consideration that should be paid to the new wealth generator: the employee.

As previously stated, the management has to pay attention to employees’ skills and motivation. Smirnov’s (1994) study reveals that individual’s motives are initially subordinated to personal needs, while some of them might become subordinated to social motives. This process consists of two stages: first stage when the individual incorporates other peoples’ motives into own hierarchy of motives. In the second stage, the individual becomes selective towards past experiences, and some experiences receive higher value, other are neglected, other being left neutral. Therefore the individual’s development is own individual’s construction. As any activity is directly determined by motives (Smirnov, 1994), manipulating the motives ends in manipulating activities.

I suggest that coaching through line managers aims to provide people with motives from inside so that the subsequent desired action and behavior to be obtained, now in a different manner of the traditional external punishment and reward.

1.5. Current definitions of coaching

In his foreword to ‘Coaching for leadership’ Belasco (2000) confidently defines coaching through what coaches do: ‘coaches help people become more than they realize they can be’ (Belasco, 2000, p.xi). Belasco finds essential the participants in coaching: the coachee must ‘desperately’ want to grow, and be available to dedicate time and effort for this, while the coach needs to be deeply focused on helping the coachee get where they want to be. The efforts of the coach-coachee might be directed towards developing a skill, improving performance or ‘even by changing the way the person thinks’ (Belasco, 2000, p. xii). More, considering coaching as a win-win experience, Belasco emphasizes that this experience brings out the best in the two persons: the coach helps the other to learn, develop, get where they want, while the coachee gives back ‘the noblest sentiments’.

This idyllic view on coaching is shared by Witherspoon (2000) who claims that ‘coaching is undertaken to bring out the best in people’ (Witherspoon, 2000, p. 167).

Pinchot (2000) equal the coach to a teacher, the workplace coaching addresses the needs of the coachee which are subordinated to the company’s needs and goals.

Schein (2000) considers that coaching is interested in many aspects of learning, from achieving new skills to ‘reshaping of basic mental models’ (Schein, 2000, p.71).

Allen (2000) considers as well that coaching is a valuable way/method of ‘restructuring the automatic response systems’ and this restructuring he considers to be basis of instilling new behaviors and getting to higher performance.

Clutterbuck and Megginson think that ‘coaching is about unleashing people's potential and helping them achieve their goals’ (2005, p.97), a quite romantic definition from two CIPD certified practitioners. Zeus and Skiffington see coaching as ‘a conversation, a dialogue, whereby a coach and coachee interact in a dynamic exchange to achieve goals, enhance performance and move the coachee forward to greater success’ (2000, p.xiii).

Luecke defines coaching as an activity where ‘the managers work with subordinates to foster skill development, impart knowledge and inculcate values and behaviors that will help them achieve organizational goals and prepare them for more challenging assignments (2004, p.xi).

Lyons (2000) believes that (executive) coaching has as main goal ‘to affect the way that the executive thinks and behaves’ (Lyons, 2000, p. 5).

1.5.1. Can anyone coach?

Starr’s answer is ‘in theory, anyone should be able to coach’, (2002, p.106) and she expresses her belief that even if some people do not find coaching as a natural extension of who they are and how they do things, with commitment to achieve the skills required for effective coaching, the problem is solved.

In Lyons (2000) view, the coach exerts a considerable influence on coachee, even if this is an executive, and even if the coach is not hierarchically related to the coachee.

Lyons (2000) believes that the coach-coachee rapport is based on trust and credibility. Lyons (2000) considers the process of coaching consisting of: good questioning followed by analysis, and feed-back. The same process content of coaching is observed by Goldsmith (2000), adding between analysis and feedback a stage he calls ‘suggestions’. In Goldsmith’s perception, the coaching is integrant part of performance-review process, and emphasizes the ‘role of judge’ the coach has to assume.

Asking questions (Lyons, 2000) aims to help coachee reconsider own positions or views or planned actions. The coaching is evaluated by observing the new behaviors performed in the ’real world’. Similarly, Goldsmith supporting the behavioral coaching, advocates the use of 360 feedback as a measure of the new behavior

Witherspoon (2000) divides the coaching approach taking into account the results desired: coaching for skills, for performance, for development or for executive’s (coachee’s) agenda... Each coaching process is structured by the answers received for the questions ‘when, who, why and what’

Schein (2000) expresses his belief that any coaching that is deprived of a helping relationship ends to be instruction, and instruction is seen by Schein as the process that generates resistance from learner, and not learning effort.

Kouzes and Posner emphasize that effective coaching is related to ‘investing in relationship (p.97), and that coaching ‘is about caring’ (p.99).

Crane (2000) takes a step further and considers that any manager has to change his command-and-control mentality for becoming an effective coach. This deep level transformation wrapped in the concept of ‘transformational coaching’ aims to give the coach the ability to deal with the whole human being which the coachee is. Crane finds two beliefs related to people’s behavior and calls them by the roles played by manager: ‘boss’ and ‘coach’. In annex A there is an extract from Crane’s definition on these beliefs, and is extremely obvious they coincide with what Sternberg defines as legislative versus executive thinking style, while annex B reflects almost to the letter Dweck’s ‘incremental self-theorist’.

Lyons (2000) considers coaching from a strategic perspective and suggests that coaching provides an opportunity for reflection, for stepping out of daily routine and taking a wider view on work (and life) issues. More, coaching seems to be an effective tool of managing organizational change, by helping the team motivation.

1.6. Processes of innovation on the job

  • The concept of tacit knowledge (TK)

According to Thite (2004), the knowledge in an organization exists as explicit and implicit. The explicit knowledge can be found in the policies, procedures, routines and roles, all of these could be subject of communication through information technologies. The tacit knowledge is personal, practical, context specific and difficult to formalize. We witness in this definition an antithetic character of explicit and implicit knowledge. The great content of classic management is aimed towards handling the explicit type of knowledge and this implies that the classic management might be unsuitable for handling implicit knowledge.

Let us first find out the difference between how explicit knowledge and implicit knowledge work on a crisis situation, a situation which disrupts routine and demands a conscious intervention of the organization According to Thite’s (2004) model, a rich past experience could be an asset or a liability, depending on the way this experience is used when taking into account the present situation. Thus, when the crisis of the present is similar to past situations, the crisis could be solved by using ‘time tested techniques’. But if the present situation is different of the past ones, ‘time tested techniques’ must be replaced by new, creative solutions.

So, a dynamic present requires the shift from ‘do as we have always done here’ to ‘find by yourself a suitable solution to this problem’. At a close analyze, it can be understood easily that this shift means in fact to give up the almighty ‘do as you are told’ to ‘do as you think is better’. The underlying idea is that management should leave the control on actions to the employees and endow them with responsibility of their actions. But what is required more in this equation to make it possible is trust: employer needs to be sure that employee is really providing the best solution according to his own views, and the employee needs to be confident that his own views are perceived and valued by the company’s management.

In this point, where trust is to be shared and send back and forth between management and employees, coaching as a way of communicating is needed.

Thite (2004) suggests that immediate manager found in direct interaction with the employee is the one who is ‘most influential for their morale and motivation.’ (p.13)

The daily interaction between immediate manager (called from here on line manager – LM) and employee could be done pursuing LM’s own interest or employees’ own interests. A LM trying to achieve own interests (and act as autocratic, political driven) generally do not pay attention to employee’s interests and needs. Such a managerial approach is ineffective when trying to harness the value of tacit knowledge because the employee does not trust his manager. The tacit knowledge is elicited only when the answer to the question ‘why should I make the effort of being creative (and assume responsibility for the result) and leave the comfort of doing as told (and leave the responsibility issue on decision-maker’s shoulders)’ starts with ‘because’.

  • Unconscious competence

Allen (2000) gives us a behavioral model that explains the way people become ‘unconsciously competent’ when learning new ways – of thinking, feeling or behaving. The four stages model starts with unconscious incompetence, when we do not know that we do not know what we do not know, followed by conscious incompetence – when we know where we should be and what we should be doing but we do not know how to get there, and the third stage – conscious competence – when we have got where we wanted, we know we can do it, but we need to remind ourselves to do it again. The final stage – the unconscious competence reflected by the fact we just do it, and we questions ourselves when we do not do it. I find a great similarity to tacit knowledge, but I think that tacit knowledge refers to skills mainly, and processes, while the unconscious competence seems to have a cultural/moral component.

The idea of unconscious competence is very similar to what Czikszentmihalyi calls ‘flow’, a state in which the actions are done apparently without conscious intervention. The concept of ‘flow’ is more than unconscious competence, as Czikszentmihalyi (1991) takes a step further and links the unconscious achievement of the task with a feeling of joy and pleasure, opposed to boredom that the routine brings in work tasks. He believes that without the feeling of joy that defines the state of flow, ‘there will be little purpose in living’ (Czikszentmihalyi, 1982, cited in Downey, 2001, p.109). It could be concluded that guiding people to achieve the ‘flow’ state it is in itself rewarding in the present and highly motivating for future action. The most revealing for our topic is the process of flow state. Thus, a subject is in flow when ‘both challenges and skills are high and equal to each other’. In the figure below this ‘channel of flow’ shows that when the subject has a certain skill, the challenges correspondent need to be high enough, otherwise the subject is apatic. If the challenge is too high, the subject becomes anxious. In order to get back on the ‘flow channel’, the subject needs to work on his/her skills and enhance them so that the challenge is faced with a correspondently equal skill. More, if the skills of the subject are high enough, he/she needs to receive a higher challenge in order to avoid boredom. This dialectic dynamic, in a Yin-Yang fashion, might be a valuable model for line managers who work with their subordinates, by being facilitators of their development.


Figure 1. Skills and Challenge in Flow (Farmer, 1999)

  • Practical Thinking

Practical thinking results in flexibility, this meaning that the same problem gets different solutions, ’finely fitted to the occasion’ (p.22). This flexibility in designing a solution represents, according to Schön (1983, cited in Scribner, 1986, p.22) ‘the hallmark of professional expertise’. Thus, it was observed that once workers acquire the level of skill required by a task, they change the solution modes so that the task is accomplished in the ‘least effortful way’.

More, when the present task require ad-hoc solutions, not described in any standard, the ‘least effort’ strategies correspond to workers’ own value, so that their motivation for adopting a solution of a certain mode relates to their desire to make their jobs more compatible with their needs.

My conclusion is that starting from a minimal level of expertise, workers have the natural drive towards modifying the way they fulfill a task, so that the mode of the solution provided corresponds their own values.


Figure 2. The practical problem solving system Scribner (1986)

Skill in practical thinking involves realizing a fitting relationship between formal problem, outside components of the formal problem and goals and interests of the problem solver. This implies acknowledging that skillful practical thinking is based on continuous invention of new ways of handling old and new problems, and Scribner recognizes this activity as creativity: Since creativity is a term ordinarily reserved for exceptional individuals and extraordinary accomplishments, recognizing it in the practical problem-solving activities of ordinary people introduces a new perspective from which to grasp the challenge of the ordinary (Scribner, 1986, p.28).

1.7. Theories on factors that determine the effective learning

Skills need to be acquired and updated. In a dynamic environment, it is nearly close to impossible to predict what skills are required in future and thus, to allow time to acquire them in a traditional training system. Employees are expected to learn when is required, what is needed, and to absorb the knowledge in an innovative way, making sense of it and finding creative uses of the knowledge, which can finally generate company’s competitive edge on the market. As simple as that.

The problem is that not everybody can or wants to learn everything, at anytime, under any condition. Some people consider that the ability of learning depends on inborn qualities usually called intelligence. Others think that opportunity, a special mélange of when, where and how are more influential on learning effectiveness.

Pinchot (2000) consider that optimal challenge is a trigger for development claims that ‘with an optimal level of challenge, clients will widen their perspectives, leave their comfort zones, learn new things, try new things, listen with open minds, admit and learn from mistakes and successes alike, become more comfortable with change, learn to be more open, and become authentic’ (Pinchot, 2000, p. 56). This type of discourse is very motivational, but with little guidance for how and what generates genuine change.

Unlike these type of discourses, Dweck (2000) demonstrates that desire to learn is affected by theories of intelligence (p.26), and it seems that addressing the motivation only in reward terms, and not in terms of the input brought by employee’s theory of intelligence is a process less than truly efficient. (Use the reward as main motivation does not generally give the genuine interest for learning, as the incremental theory reveals). If an organization requires continuous learning from its employees, exploring the employees’ theories of intelligence seems to be the basics of any training of development intervention. The theories of intelligence prove to be at the basis of learning process, exactly what a company desires and pays big money to continuously get from their employees.

Sternberg (1984) defines intelligence as successful adaptation to the real world.

For Sternberg intelligence has only a contextual meaning, a given competency being a sign of intelligence only if it is adaptive, i.e. to lead to success in a given situation (Klemp & McClelland, 1986, p.47).

If problem solving needs creative solution for a situation where a various number of factors bring their contribution in defining the problem and intelligence is contextual and is revealed when the success is achieved, I might conclude that intelligence is needed to find creative solutions to problems, so intelligence is underlying part of tacit knowledge acquiring. In other words, there might be a direct causal link between what we call intelligence under Sternberg’s definition and an effective problem solving.

If line managers (LM) want to enhance their coachees’ problem solving abilities, the way LM perceive intelligence could be an indicative of the strategies involved when challenging situations occur, predicting the quality of the solution.

The personal perception hold on intelligence is one of the basic self-perceptions.

We might assume that the success following a task defines our intelligence and therefore, ourselves. But what happens when failure follows a task? Does the lack of success in fulfilling a task proves how non-intelligent we are, and consequently, unworthy?

The answers to these questions are important because they predict the type of strategy we engage when undertaking a learning task. For example, nobody in this world would set the target to learn something wishing to fail. But during the learning process, to miss the target – far of the ‘veni, vedi, vici’ manner - is quite a general thing. When practical skills are in target, their improving and polishing requires successive tries. Generally, the individual performs the task, collects the feedback and decides what and how should be done in order to obtain the desired goal. High skills simply need a lot of feedback and reconstruction in order to get to the final level. This takes time, understanding, and I say in this paper, a certain mindset, a certain mental models that enable this process of live remodeling of approach.

According to Carol Dweck (2000) self – theory on intelligence, humans act under two distinct mental models when approaching a learning task. When people believe that their intelligence is a fixed trait, being like a recipient that holds a certain quantity of given intelligence, or like ‘an entity that dwells within us and that we can’t change’ (Dweck, 2000, p.2), they belong therefore to the ‘entity theory’ group. When people believe that their intelligence is not a sealed, intangible container but something that can be expanded through learning, they belong to the ‘incremental theory’ group.

The massive research of Dweck (starting with 1975) and her collaborators regarding this theory revealed the multiple causal connections between the theory on intelligence that a person has and her/his subsequent approach to a learning task.

In the following table I present the views on different subjects of the individuals who hold the entity or incremental theory on intelligence.

Theory on intelligence


Entity Theory

Incremental Theory

View of own intelligence

An entity that dwells within us and can’t be changed (p.2)

Intelligence can be increased through one’s efforts (p.3)

Self- esteem

Need to look smart, as a prerequisite of maintaining self-esteem and confidence

- Need external praise and feedback to make sure

Is not interested in looking smart, but in effort (stretching their skills) and learning ( put knowledge at good use)

Level of confidence in their intelligence

Need a high level to perform

Want to learn even if their confidence is low


Distaste for challenge that might be a threat for self-esteem

A challenge is seen as an opportunity for new learning, for mastering new skills

Approach to effort

Prefers easy, low-effort successes

Believes that with effort and guidance can increase intellectual abilities

Perseverance in difficult tasks

Gives up quickly

Perseveres in difficult tasks

Group challenges

Needs to outperform others

Approach to failure

Helpless pattern

*Thoughts: denigrate own abilities and blame their intelligence for the failure, lost faith in their intellect

*could follow an unbroken string of success

* do not believe they are able to succeed at task in future, and lose perspective on their past achievements

*Feelings: change of feeling from happiness during the successful tasks to being bored during the difficult task.

*Performance: decreased by engaging in ineffective strategies: giving solutions based on personal reasons, not on objective given information.

Preferred goals: performance

Mastery oriented pattern

*Thoughts: do not denigrate their intellectual ability, as they do not see themselves as failing

*they concentrate on task and have a self-motivating inner dialogue

*certainty in ability to redo past achievements

*Feelings: maintained positive mood

*Performance: is maintained or improved: people teach themselves new strategies.

Preferred goals: Learning

Goals definitions

Performance goals: win positive judgments of competence and avoid negative ones (p.15)

Reflects desire to look smart and avoid looking dumb. Learning goals: goal of increasing own competence Reflects desire to get smarter

Performance goals

Goals can directly create helpless and mastery-oriented responses (p.16)

Meaning of goals

Performance goals: test their global intelligence now and later (p.28).

Learning goals : failure can cast doubt on own global permanent intelligence

Performance goals: test a specific skill at a specific point in time (p.28)

Learning goals: failure means that your present strategy or skills are inadequate (p.27)

According to Dweck (2000, p.29), a challenge, or a difficult situation reveals the real orientation of subjects towards a helpless or mastery – orientated response, especially when the subjects are equal in performance and abilities.

In any modern organization, the way employees react to novel situation and how they engage in creative is of major importance for the final profitability and survival, and is the one that give competitive edge on the market.

Starting from the self-theory on intelligence, Dweck and her collaborators found causal relations between the types of goals (performance of learning) established at the beginning of the task and the response individuals have when facing setbacks. Thus, if individuals consider that their performance on a task is a measure of themselves as persons, when facing failure, a helpless response is more likely to be generated. When subjects focus on learning, failure might generate perseverance in applying the effort for success.

Even more, the research of Chiu, Dweck, Tong and Fu (1997) revealed that implicit theories are linked to moral beliefs – duties versus rights, and indicates that incremental theorists were focusing on moral principles, as human rights, while the entity theorists focused on duties they have within the system.

Dweck’s research reveals that theories of intelligence hold by individuals can be influenced by supervisors. Influencing subjects’ theories on intelligence, whole different strategies will be engaged following any challenging learning situation.

For coaching and training this conclusion I consider being of major importance. There are numerous strategies which aim to overcome the defences and withdraw some people manifest when facing learning failure: behavioral conditioning rewards. But these external strategies are active only as long as individual’s own motivation finds a purpose in achieving the proposed rewards. Without an inner motivation, offered by the incremental theory, the individual would develop a helpless response, and the training and coaching efforts would be somehow in vain.

Returning to how can be influenced the theory on intelligence, Dweck’s research suggests that tutors/supervisors have one way of influencing the theory of intelligence: by establishing the type of goal on a task. In this manner the subject’s approach to the task it can be influenced, regardless of their own self-theory.

Subjects’ theory on intelligence not only predicts their goal choices (Dweck, 2000, p.23), but causes the choice of a performance or a learning goal. (Dweck, 2000, p.24).

The main contribution of Dweck’s theory on intelligence for managers who act as coaches is the fact proved by repeated research and studies that confirm that people’s theories of intelligence are malleable and can be influenced.

1.8. Myths demystified

  • Praise raises confidence, and confidence is essential for success

Dweck suggests that not the confidence is causal to application of continuous effort when the failure is met, but the self-theory. Therefore, external appraisal of the tutor/superior had different effects on subjects depending on their self- theory:

-the subjects with performance goals – some of them were told at the beginning of the task that they are considered able to deal with it; they remained mastery-oriented in front of failure challenge; in the same time, some other subjects with performance goals were told at the beginning that the task is too difficult for them; they had a helpless response in dealing with failure and difficulties. I

- for the subjects with learning goals the apriori evaluation of the tutor regarding their ability to deal with the task made no difference; they applied the same effort in finding a solution, no matter if they were considered able or not.

Contrary to the general view, the level of confidence, self-confidence, is not relevant for the way a subject meets a difficult situation, and the theory of intelligence gives a better explanation: entity theory subject with a high level of self-confidence generated in greater degree a helpless response in answer to difficult situations than an incremental theory with low confidence. Henderson and Dweck’s (1990) research shows that a low confidence incremental theory subject – who does not believe they have a high intellectual ability- would spend all efforts to improve it, and thus obtaining improvement of abilities, while a high confidence entity theory subject in face of difficult situations start to doubt their intelligence and avoid to make the effort necessary to overcome the situation; why? Because being smart is revealed by finding quickly and effortless a solution, thus any extra effort proves the lack of intelligence

  • Performance predicts the creativity of the employee

Very important for any employer is the way the employee finds creative answers to the daily problems. Dweck brings an interesting result of her research related to this concern: having subjects with similar ability to solve a new, novel problem, those subjects having learning goals were more mastery-oriented, while the subjects with performance goals were in the helpless response, easily giving up to find solutions to challenges of the new.

This research brings in an interesting view for any employer, proving that if they need their employees to be adaptable, flexible and easily dealing with new situation, their existing recruiting criteria just do not spot the candidates that have these qualities: they should check some other criteria than the ability – as it might be revealed by grades and other exterior performance appraisals.

1.9. Why self-theory might be revealing for business coaching

The conclusion: students’ theories of intelligence did in fact predict real-world achievement’ (Dweck, 2000, p.32). If achievement of the coachee is what the manager is looking for, then identifying the coachee’s theory of intelligence seems to be a much helpful instrument for understanding and creating an appropriate coaching intervention, than trying to use techniques for boosting confidence. Dweck showed us that in fact, boosting the confidence for an entity theory subject might have the contrary effect.

This research reveals that if the general view is that the level of confidence is a predictor of achievement, the intelligence theory explains the contradictions that we cannot explain in real world: a successful subject achieves less and less, while subjects less endowed achieve important successes in time.

For a manager this important information is relevant especially when we make the connection with Argyris and Schon (1978) theory on single loop and double loop organizational learning.

For Argyris and Schon the process of learning includes detection of error, followed by correction of error. When the correction is processed by finding new strategies under the present rules, policies and procedures of the organization, this is a ‘single loop’ learning process (see figure xx). When correction is done by altering the very rules and procedures existing in organization, this is a ‘double loop’ learning process.


Figure 3. Single loop and Double loop learning, in Smith, M. K. (2001) 'Chris Argyris: theories of action, double-loop learning and organizational learning', the encyclopedia of informal education, www.infed.org/thinkers/argyris.htm.

The above figure indicates that the single –loop learning is execution oriented, seeking to give the best performance under the existent organizational structure. As we already presented, when the environment demands new, innovative solutions for new problems, the structure itself has to be reassessed, if a real adaptive response is to be achieved.

But Argyris’ studies revealed that individuals do not engage easily in double-loop, the one which generates adaptive structure; organization rather develop defensive strategies -veritable blocks to learning as adaptive process to changing environment. Even more, Argyris (1982) considers that people holding a single-loop learning strategy determine organization to behave in the same way: defensive, enforcing the existing strategies and rules, avoiding the spotting of errors and proving in the end to be a defender of the present status-quo, with no developmental, learning and adaptive results for the organization.

Another view on single and double loop organizational learning is brought by Hayes and Allinson (1998), which cites Swieringa and Wiedsma (1992) model of individual and collective learning:


Figure 4. The learning organization (Hayes and Allinson, 1998, p.56)

Argyris reveals the fact that learning should affect not only the process but also the mentalities of people. Starting with Argyris’ theory, people’s inner barriers were identified as main problems for organizational learning. Numerous scientists tried to understand what the real causes of these blocks are and literature provides us with a wide array of theories.

Streufert and Nogami (1989, cited in Hayes and Allinson, 1998) believe that the response of an individual when facing new content tasks depends not on knowledge and skills, but on ‘personality variables’ which ‘control how a person in general perceives, processes and organizes information and how that person would act’ (Streufert and Nogami, 1989, cited in Hayes and Allinson, 1998, p.850).

Streufert and Nogami’s view greatly corresponds with Dweck’s (2000) finding on the influence of self-theories on the strategies engaged by an individual when confronted with new and challenging situations. Dweck’s theory provides an understanding of why people get stuck and what can be done to solve such a situation.

More, connecting self-theories with Sternberg’s thinking styles theory, it could be created a greater map of the influences which can be met in the way people process and organize information.

1.10. Line managers and self-theories

What is the link between the theories of intelligence and the collaborative style?

For entity-theorist, the smart person must be the winner, this meaning little effort, and frequently feeling smart when they succeed and see their peers struggling. For incremental-theorist, working together to solve the challenge integrates every subject in a collaborative environment.

Effort: praising for performance on easy tasks can backfire: people get use with the idea that errors are not welcome, that effort is not part of a normal success story and that being intelligent implies no errors or fails, and the time frame has to be usually very short. Managers need to know this in their coaching, especially if they really want their empowering techniques to put the coachee on right track. An inspiring method could be found in what is called ‘attribution retraining’, were researchers taught new explanations for failure, so that instead of having an explanation for failure lack of ability, subjects were taught that the reason is just lack of relevant effort. The ‘attribution retraining’ research was contrasted to the training for success, which aimed to create a history of success, which was expected to allow them deal better with future difficult situation. The study revealed that subjects were coping better with failure after ‘attribution retraining’ than after ‘success training’, and that ‘just building students up within the same old framework seemed to be ineffective’ (Dweck, 2000, p.57). This is one of the conclusions of maximal importance, from my point of view, for any manager who coaches for development (of skills or personal). Many reports on coaching and training show a low level of performance of the interventions, and this fact puts under question all the resources used (time and money); in an profit oriented training department, the results are extremely important, and everybody desires measurable proves. Unfortunately, these results are difficult to be measured, and CIPD 2008 report identifies as main method to measure the results ‘the observation of changes’ (CIPD, 2008, p. 19), only 8% of the respondents measuring their coaching effectiveness using a formal process.

An important conclusion of Dweck’s studies in relation to confidence and success could be of great importance for business coaching as well: ‘ ...the confidence students need is not the confidence that they have a certain level of smartness, or that they have more of it than other students. The confidence they need is the confidence that they, or anybody for that matter, can learn if they apply their effort and strategies’ (Dweck, 2000, p. 57-58).

1.11. The employee’s potential and the manager-coach’ perception

The subject who is convinced that intelligence is a fixed trait wants to look smart, dislikes challenges, any failure is assumed to reveal a low level of intelligence, and generates a helpless response.

The subject convinced that intelligence is malleable – welcomes challenges and effort, and failure is interpreted only as a step towards mastery, a moment requiring new approaches, strategies, or ways to apply the effort to achieve the desired goal.

Any manager would recognize in the above patterns that the first one belongs to the person who gets stuck – as in Argyris’ theory, and cannot go further on the learning and transformation path – whatever the rewards and motivations might be, while the second type of subject could be the one that brings into organization the creative and continuous learning spirit needed.

The importance of manager‘s own understanding of what generates their subordinates progress is supported by Weiner’s (1992) attribution theory. According to this theory people attribute causes to events, and one of the implications for teachers is, according to Daniels and Edwards (2004, p. 98) that ‘if the teachers believe the children failed due to lack of ability (as opposed to lack of effort, my note), their motivation to encourage children to continue working on similar tasks is likely to be low’ (Daniels $ Edwards, 2004, p.98). I could translate the theory on teacher’s attribution to manager as coach and it can be easily understood that coach’s own mental models exerts it’s own influence on the development of his/her coachee.

When they make performance evaluations, managers do make judgments on people’s intelligence or on their efforts and search for new approaches?

Heyman & Dweck’s (1998) study suggests that the performance – good or poor – reflected the intellect – brilliant or poor - for entity theorists, while the incremental theorists concluded that the performance was a results of the approach used to get the task done. In the same time, important is that entity theorists were willing to judge themselves and others using a low number of ‘evidence’- not taking into account the large picture, the motivation, the difficulty of situation, sometimes even just one, and making conclusions. The result of such theory for a manager coach could really impede on the task of coaching – if a manager is an entity theorists, he could dismiss in fact the efforts of his coachee, as he is holding a deep belief that coachee has a low intellectual ability and thus, reduced capacity to learn and perform (Dweck, 2000, p.76).

A manager coach with an incremental theory is likely to concentrate on efforts, approaches, strategies, and when coaching is interested in what actions would help coachees to overcome the setback.

These implications seem to get into contradiction with Bandura’s (1997) theory on self-efficacy. In his 1997 book, Bandura proposes the theory that those with high self-efficacy expectancies – this meaning that they believe they have the capability to realize what they set to – are healthier, effective and successful. The emphasize is set here on a person’s belief in own capability to engage in action (planning and doing) so that to attain the desired goal. More, in Bandura’s theory this self-efficacy (the belief in own capabilities) determines the way people think.

Coachees’ potential for change – an entity theorist manager coach (MC) would hold a belief that basic change is not possible in reality, while the incremental MC believes in personal change. Entity theorists do not consider that people can change and grow, incremental theorists consider that people can overcome difficulties and change, with proper motivation and guidance. Entity theorists believe that traits (intelligence, personality) are fixed and evaluating behavior and performance reveal them ‘they believe that what they perceive on the outside reflect what people are like on the inside’ (Dweck, 2000, p.89).

Stereotypes come – partly - from implicit theories, and Dweck believes that changing the implicit theories, might influence the stereotyping. Stereotyping is about judging groups of people on racial, ethnic, age, religious, sexual orientation criteria. The stereotyping could interfere with the involvement of manager in coaching if he is not aware of its possible occurrence, resulting in labeling in contrasting ways (good-bad, moral, vicious, rude-polite), in accordance with the positive or negative stereotype the individual holds on the respective group. The positive or negative stereotyping determines the level of collaboration or competitivity, entity theorists get more competitive, while incremental theorists adopt a cooperative strategy.

Thus, am MC must be aware that he has to deal with both coachee’s problem solving and with own personal involvement and view of the situation.

In his facilitation, the MC needs to be aware of these, and more, should be aware that if he tries to influence the implicit theories of the coachees, he is fighting with a long personal history of the coachee: maybe an inner inclination towards risk taking, the family environment

1.12. Strategies of criticism: the feedback that a line manager gives to the employee

Criticism which focuses on measuring subjects’ traits (abilities) generates a helpless responses; the one which focuses on effort or strategies employed by subordinate could generate a mastery-oriented response.

The criticism towards the subject as a whole creates the helpless response, while the criticism focused on approaches and alternative strategies generated mastery-oriented responses. The criticism that was directed towards behavior generated better responses than the criticism which addressed the whole person, but still less than the feedback which addressed the strategies employed. The study of Kamins & Dweck (1999) revealed the powerful effect of parental feedback on children’s strategy of coping; the feedback from coaching is a similar form of parental feedback and we only could assume that its influence is at least similar i.e. powerful and lasting, and influencing the general mental of the coachee. Similar findings were revealed by Baron’s (1988) research, which study the reactions towards ‘constructive criticism’ (which was not relating the poor performance to internal causes) and ‘destructive criticism’ (which was attributing the poor performance to internal causes). The later type of criticism indicated in three subsequent studies that it generated anger, tensions, avoidance, and lower goals and reduced self-efficacy.

Results of the research that was interested in the effect of praise on responses showed that even praise might generate helpless response. When praise is addressed to the person or trait, it generated later helpless response. So even if ‘you are very good at this’ could delight a person, generates vulnerability on longer term, when facing failure. On the other hand, the praise focused on effort and strategy could cope with setbacks better, later in time. Conclusion: person oriented criticism or praise can have both negative effects for coping with setbacks.

Even more, one study revealed that ‘intelligence praise makes students so oriented towards performance goal that they will lie about their failure’ (Dweck, 2000, p.119) should we ask ourselves if the high evaluations of the coaching from line managers are indeed sincere.

The theories of self give good indications not only for people achievements, but as well for how people cope with social situations and intimate relationships, (Dweck, 2000, p. 64, 69, Knee -1998).

The implicit theory on intelligence might predict the way people behave and act when a setback occurs. The manager as coach has to intervene when things do not go well, and when ensure that crisis is under control. So a manager coach is supposed to help the coachee overcome the setback. According to implicit theories, people react different to setbacks, in close accordance with their own views: an entity theory subject would react differently than an incremental theory one; so the manager coach needs to customize its intervention considering and knowing what type his coachee is. And according to Dweck, he does not have anything else to do than to encourage the change of theory from entity to incremental. And from here on he is supposed to give credit to the coachee to find own, personal solutions to setbacks. In fact this is exactly what a facilitator is required to do.

1.13. Implications for coaching

The research has shown that the implicit theory people held – the view on fixed traits versus malleable traits view- have influence in many ‘domains’ of life: on the way people perceive intelligence, their social relations, and especially their responses when they are involved in difficult situations. For business new environment, extremely fluid and dynamically influenced by a great number of factors, to have the guts to step up and deal in the most profitable way possible in novel situations, represents one of the main valuable behavior that an employee could have. Change means meeting new, requires creative approaches and innovative solutions, generally not existent in a previously written ‘guide’. The pressure of the time and the pressure of profitability are huge. In a post-scientific managerialism era, it is well accepted that prediction of the business environment is no longer possible: people need to immerse themselves in the business environment, understand it and give the best possible solution. Such an approach needs people who accept the risk of the action, without having the certainty of the result. Many managerial interventions are still immersed in the thinking frame that suggested that ‘man tamed the nature’, or that ‘man is the master of the nature’. These metaphors express the desire for total control, somewhat possible in a world which had a steady and slow dynamic. But under the present global business conditions, the dream of total control applied to reality is the sure way to failure.

How can managers balance the two contradictions: on one hand the dynamic of the business environment and on the other hand the pressures for timeliness and high-predictability of the results? Something has to change, as both simply cannot exist together.

I believe is required a flexibility in thinking, that should accept that is no longer possible to judge and measure with old devices new phenomena: cannot ask and wish for perfect results when we do not even know exactly what we are dealing with in the business environment.

Finally, Dweck (2000) helps us understand that ‘...our experiments, in one session, can teach people a ‘new’ view of the self, influencing their motivation and behavior (see Jones, 1990). Although the influence of a short experience may be quite limited and temporary, these studies show the great sensitivity that people have to this kind of information’ (Dweck, 2000, p.143, my emphasize)

And this kind of influence, through feedback and training interventions, is what a manager as coach is exerting on employee. The intervention of the coach is not at all the kind of intervention a mechanic has on a damaged machine, if the aim is to amend something wit the employee- for instance: words, body language can send messages that enforce a certain behavior. As the influence comes from a superior, can be seen as a demand needed to be respected if the advance in the company is desired, and in time such a routine might transform , be adopted as personal belief.

Chapter II

Thinking styles

Implicit theories of self tell something about the relation between ability and own mental model regarding the level of perceived ability. Leaving the implicit theories of self aside, Sternberg’s thinking styles enables us to explore the relation between own abilities and the personal preferences in putting the abilities at work.

If called coordination, or feedback, evaluating the way people perform and conform to their jobs description is one important managerial daily duty. But is this what managers do? They measure employees’ behavior and results to what the job presumes, or to what they personally are able to understand about that job and the way should be done? Don’t we compare always the way some things are with the way we think should be? Therefore, shouldn’t we be quite concerned and consciously interested in the way we think?

According to Sternberg (1999), institutions value different ways of thinking, and generally people who do not match to those values are penalized. Sternberg makes an essential difference for our research between the ability and style of thinking: ‘ability refers to how well someone can do something. A style refers to how someone likes to do something’ (Sternberg, 1999, p.8), and emphasizes that the confusing that takes place in our society between style and ability accounts for the fact that the differences between individuals are perceived as generated by ability when in fact they are generated by style.

The thinking styles as Sternberg (1994) theorizes them are inspired by the institution of government, which is considered to reflect people’s minds. The thinking styles are taking into account: functions, forms, levels, scope and leanings.

From the functions’ point of view, the styles are: legislative, executive and judicial. People who have the legislative style by people have own methods of doing things, with particular what and how. They invent structures and rules.

The legislative style often results in creativity, with novelties and new ideas, as a matter of being, not because of the motivation of the reward. Sternberg suggests that the legislative style is generally little accepted during the educational path, and schools usually discourage this style.

People with executive style like to follow rules, preferring to run structures already in place, rather than creating new structures from scratch. The executive style develops well in schools, where the obedience and following the rules are well rewarded. Being a well rewarded style, the pressure might encourage people to adopt this style, more as a ‘way of doing things’, keeping down the real style, if it differs. It is obvious that in business, the executive style could be appropriate when the dynamic of the environment allows a high degree of predictability. On contrary, when the environment is highly unpredictable, the executive style seems to generate obstacles to finding solutions.

People with judicial style like to analyze, to evaluate things and ideas. They give opinions, analyze people and their work.

The mental self-government has four forms: monarchic, hierarchic, oligarchic and anarchic, each of these forms revealing the measure in which goals and ways of doing things dominate. Thus, monarchic people tend to focus on one goal, and the obstacles that might interfere with their path are cast aside.

Hierarchic people might have multiple goals and prioritize according to the importance given to them by individual.

Oligarchic person has multiple goals and gives them equal importance, generating difficulty to prioritize. Anarchic people deal with goals as they appear, without rules and regulations, and with solutions that set a new mindset.

At levels of thinking styles, people can be: global or local. Those with a global thinking prefer abstract issues, while details are assigned usually to someone else. The local person prefers the work of detail, and pragmatic issues are preferred.

The scope categorizes the people’s thinking styles into internal and external. Internal style people tend to reveal introversion, orientation towards tasks, while socially are less sensitive. They prefer on tasks that need their individual contribution. The external people tend to reveal extroversion, with high social sensitivity and people-oriented. Thus, they prefer the cooperative work.

Leaning style refers to whether a person has a conservative or progressive orientation. The conservative people like the existing rules, ways of doing things, with keeping change as low as possible, with high predictability, familiarity and avoiding ambiguity. The progressive people prefer change, uncertainty and like challenging the existing rules and ways of doing things.

2.1. What is the relevance for managers of these thinking styles?

Is there one ‘most appropriate style’ for a manager? An executive or a legislative? Could your employees really deliver what you need? Is their thinking styles and their theories on intelligence compatible?

What are the criteria that decide if one style is better than another? I suggest that Sternberg thinking styles could help us understand that there are jobs where the entity theorist could thrive, as creativity and continuous learning is not a request for each and every job in this world.

It is well documented that in the early stages of any job, the employees are required to conform the existing rules, in the classic hierarchical institutions being not a wise option to try to judge or change any of the practices in place. Obviously, in early stages of the career, the employees are required and pay to do the job, the way it was conceived by somebody else. But as the theory and practice of organization evolved, the employee is more and more demanded to be creative, innovative, able and available for continuous learning, generally to the first benefit of the organization.

If we think in terms of generations, we could conclude that this is the trend of new business environment. But if these different demands happen during the career life of one individual, how does he/she cope with it? How does the management change their demands: by encouraging the individual to learn and exhibit new skills, different from those previously required? Or by firing and hiring people who already posses the right mix of skills and styles? It seems to me that a manager needs to be aware of the difference between abilities and styles, and consciously understand the implications of favoring or penalizing one style or another. In the same time any employee needs to consciously recognize own style as a way of matching a job with the style, in order to obtain maximum benefits and advancement.

The manager as coach has even a more difficult task as he has to work with, to evaluate and to direct the coachee towards a desired performance. If his understanding and style is different of coachee’s is very possible that the relationship coach-coachee to not work. As Sternberg emphasizes, ‘especially in teaching (coaching in our case – my note) we need to take into account students’ styles of thinking if we hope to reach them.’ (Sternberg, 1999, p.158). Confounding styles with abilities might take a coach to dismiss the value of an employee’s contribution- this could be exactly what could deprive a company of its competitive edge.

Sternberg (1994) suggests that the difference between styles and abilities could be understood and in a contrary way: so that the individual likes to do things in a certain way, without being able to achieve results of high performance.

In conclusion, I consider that the implicit theory of self and the thinking styles represent the basic theories which underlie the activities of training and development in any business. Training and development is interested in developing people’s performance. Many companies show the slogans that ‘people are their most important asset’, proving that in 21st century, not the land, not the buildings, not the technique brings the largest part of the profit, but human intervention.

Before starting my analyze of the implications that Dweck’s and Sternberg’s theories have for LM, I would like to point out an interesting connection between the two enabled by Perry’s (1970) model.

Perry (1970) proposes a model of how the conceptions on learning evolve, with five stages.

View towards

Stage 1-2

Stage 3

Stage 4

Stage 5


all knowledge is known

Most is known but there are some fuzzy ideas

Some is known; no certainty; anything goes

different Knowledge is needed in different contexts

Answers to problems

either right or wrong

my answer is as good as yours

no absolute truth; answers are relative but good answers exists once the conditions are known

Teacher, tutor, instructor

Instructor and books

know the truth

role is to tell us how to learn

role is as models; but they can be completely

role is to be a guide and source of expertise discounted

Student's role

to receive

to work hard and to learn how to learn

to think to yourself; independent thought is good

to identify the conditions; to choose the best ideas


worried if exam format is fuzzy

asks 'what do you expect?'

equates bad grades with bad person

is the key issue; quantity and fairness

hard work= good mark

independent ideas equal good mark;

Can separate assessment of work from personal self worth

seek positive and negative feedback on assessment

Preferred task

memorize definitions

compare and contrast


Synthesis. Relate ideas between contexts

Difficult task

decide which of two conflicting

focus on the 'process' and not on answer

provide evidence to support claims

decide on which conditions apply

Analyzing this model, I could argue that the incremental self- theory (Perry’s stage 3 matching the incremental theory) is not only a counterpart of the entity- self theory, but a superior developmental stage of learning conceptions, this later theory finding an equivalent in stages 1-2 of the model.

Perry’s model enables to see the manifestation of the thinking styles, the judicial (compare and contrast) and legislative thinking (independent ideas are valued) style seem to manifest in a later developmental stage (4 and 5). This observation is concordant with Sternberg’s observation that thinking style is not static, that it ‘can vary across the life span’, being determined not only by personal preference but as well by a constellation of factors such as: tasks, situations, age, place and social values (which reward a certain style).

I find important to emphasize that both self- theories and thinking styles can be influenced, or how Sternberg expressed it ‘are teachable’ (1997, p. 90)

Chapter III


3.1. About research

In my research I try to explore how Dweck’s self-theory and Sternberg’s thinking styles can be found at the level of line managers (LM) with coaching duties in an organization.

My first speculative assumption would be that LM is largely executive types, with an entity theory, and that coaching duties cannot be truly fulfilled under this condition.

My assumption is that LM do not have the drive to overcome inner barriers when facing difficulties, challenges, novel situations, so even less they are able to realistically guide and coach their employees for genuine learning, other than simply copycatting existing procedures and perpetuating the existing status-quo.

In my research I used a questionnaire, which is found in annex.

The questionnaire is structured in 3 parts.

First part aims to identify what is the most relevant content of coaching for LM: training for skills or increasing awareness of the organizational culture.

The second part tries to identify the theory on intelligence of the LM who volunteered for my questionnaire For the second part I have used the scale ‘Theories of Intelligence scale – self form for adults’ (Dweck, 2000, p.178), as they were designed by Carol Dweck (2000), with the evaluation scale as per Dweck, Chiu and Hong (1995, p.269),

using Dweck’s scale (2000). The third part consists of questions which aim to reveal the thinking styles of LM. For the third part I have used the questionnaire and evaluation scales as designed by Robert Sternberg (1997, p.28 – 39). In total there are 30 questions.

I have presented the questionnaire to the group of students attending the master program of MSc in Training and Development at University of Edinburgh, to the line managers of Peacocks, a UK clothing retailer – Edinburgh division, and professionals of training and development contacted via email.

3.2. The results

I have received 8 answers - and the results of the answers on each subject are presented below.

With only 8 answers to my questionnaire I could conclude that it is a low rate response.

I have tried to use different approaches to gathering data. One questionnaire pool was constituted by my colleagues, about 40 in number. A second pool was constituted by questionnaires sent to training practitioners as they were advertised on internet. A third one was constituted by professionals with training duties inside Peacocks- Edinburgh.

The low rate of response might have as causes

  • The respondents might have been busy or in their holiday time, taking into account the time of the year when the questionnaire took place (end July- beginning of August)
  • Difficult or disturbing questions; one subject told me verbally that she considered the questions that evaluated theory on intelligence as being arrogant.
  • Too lengthy questionnaire: at the sampling stage, I have received the feedback that there are too many questions, but I needed to keep the question in order to have a complete profile. One respondent told me that he was upset by the fact that questions were somehow repetitive, while another subject objected on the fact that the scale for evaluating their opinion had too many option (6 or 7).
  • No interest in topic
  • Decision taken on my personal accounts, were was the case

For the first part of the questionnaire where I attempted to find out what is the main priority for subjects: training or disseminating with the coachees the organizational culture. 37% of the respondents identified training as main priority, 37% considered integration in the organizational culture as the most important content of their coaching, while the rest of 26% put equal importance in both training for skills and instructing into the culture of the organization.

The second part of the questionnaire explores the theory on intelligence of the subjects.

Regarding the theory of intelligence, I have identified strong theorists, as per Dweck, Chiu and Hong indication, so that subjects with a score under 3.0 were identified as entity theorist, while those with a score above 4.0 were incremental theorist.

62% of respondents manifest an incremental theory, while 38% come with an entity theory.

For the third part, according to Sternberg’s scale, we have following styles on each subject.


Legislative Style

Executive Style

Judicial Style

































HML= High Medium legislative

LML= Low medium legislative

VLL=very low legislative

LME= Low medium executive

LE= low executive

HME=High medium executive

VHE=Very high executive

VHJ=very high judicial

HMJ= High medium judicial

LJ= Low judicial

LMJ= Low medium judicial

3.3. Conclusions

I have tried to explore if there could be found any correlation between self-theories and thinking styles.

The small number of respondents cannot allow me to make any statistical inferences, so I only present the facts taking into account the repartitions of subjects’ thinking styles, gender, and education versus self-theories.

In figure 5 -‘Self - theory versus Gender’, 3 female subjects and one male are incremental, while on entity theory I found 2 female subjects and one male. I could infer that there might be no correlation between self-theory and gender, but this hypothesis should be analyzed on a larger number of responses.

In figure 6 – ‘Self- theory versus Coaching content’, I found one 2 incrementalist subjects with the view that coaching relates mainly to improving skills, and 2 entity subjects that consider coaching to relate primarily to integration into the organizational culture. I found this result in contradiction with what I might suppose in the first instance, that an incrementalist is devoted to development and meaning while an entity would focus on training for skills. I could explain this result by the fact that the content of coaching expressed by respondents is not necessarily what they believe it is, but what they practice in their organization. I suggest that for a line manager or trainer the personal view on coaching’s content is determined by the ‘policy’ of the organization, i.e. the objectives.

On figure 7 – ‘Self-theory versus Education’, I could infer that the level of education does not help in predicting the self theory.

On figure 8 – ‘Self-theory versus Age’, I found 4 incrementalist theorists for the 35-49 segment, while the younger segment 25-34 I found 2 entity theorists. There could be a tendency that with age the individual gains an incremental orientation, but as the number of respondents on each segment is not equilibrated (5 respondents for 35- 49 and only 3 for 25-34), I could not find this conclusion relevant.

On figure 9 – Self –theories versus Legislative style, I found 4 incrementalist subjects manifesting an over average legislative style, while only 2 of entity theorists subjects were manifesting above the average legislative thinking.

On figure 10 – ‘Self-theory versus executive style’ I found 5 subjects holding a high and very high executive style: 3 incrementalist subjects rated to high and very high executive. And 2 entity subjects hold high medium executive style. This finding is in concordance with the fact that the respondents are primarily line managers, with operational duties

This is another case when I suppose that what organization requirements model subject’s own perceptions and choices.

In figure 11 – ‘Self-theory versus judicial style’ benefits of an equal distribution of the subjects, but one observation needs to be made: while incrementalist theorist are equally distributed on judicial style, I could not identify any entity theorist as having an above the average thinking style.

Future approaches

My research had a low rate of response. This is a general problem of the questionnaires. Still the very low rate made me think I should have focused on only one objective – for instance to identify only the self-theories of coaches. It is possible that the correlations between self-theories and thinking style to require a much larger pool and maybe some enforcement from an authority – as it would be the case of a request from top management. But in the case of a pushed response I would doubt the reality of the statements.

The response on the questionnaire attached on annex that holds comments, made me discover that the comments were bringing interesting insights, but as in my questionnaire the case was to use existing scales, I think that the analyse of a discourse would require another approach, maybe an unstructured interview.

Personal Learning

As a result of this research I have understood the difference between the ‘guru’ motivational type discourses, where there are stated opinions without proper research. In the same time I learned that the great majority of the research results have embedded the context and a specific characteristic of the environment and of subjects, which must be consciously taken into account when these conclusions are used.

I could not help to place a serious enquiry on myself with regard of the theories explored, and for myself the results were mixed as for the whole research: there are tasks and situations when I behave as an incrementalist, others when I act as an entity theorist, and I think this might be one important conclusion of my research: even if theories present clear cut types, in real life people manifest traits in different intensities for different situations. I think this conclusion is important for managers, as the tendency of labeling and jumping into conclusion could affect negatively the quality of assessment carried by them. Identifying and being aware of the self-theories and thinking styles would help managers understand better the people in front of them, overcoming the usual psychological barriers to understanding as false assumption, stereotyping, projecting, denying. If there is just one thing that these theories could help me and other managers understand is that we should not judge and make final assessments on a person’s abilities and development capacity. Because “the only thing we know about the future is that it will be different”.


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