Coaching for Peak Performance: Temperament and the “Workplace Pleasure Zone”

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“Although traditional incentives such as bonuses or recognition can prod people to better performance, no external motivators can get people to perform at their absolute best. . . .Wherever people gravitate within their work roles, indicates where their real pleasure lies—and that pleasure is itself motivating.”
-Daniel Goleman, Primal Leadership

Why is it that so many people easily lose track of time and demonstrate high levels of skill in their hobbies or recreational pursuits but often keep an eye on the clock and create adequate, but not exceptional, results at work? Often, the answer is that they gain great pleasure from their hobbies but little enjoyment (and, often, significant stress) from their work.

Why do people commonly refer to Wednesday as “hump day”? It reflects the all-too-common experience of putting up with five days of work to get two days of enjoyment. Wednesday is the apex of the five-day trudge towards a two-day oasis of pleasure.

For many people, “pleasurable work” is an oxymoron.

It shouldn’t be. It need not be.

In the above quote, Daniel Goleman makes an important observation about work and pleasure: when people find their work pleasurable, sustained motivation is a non-issue. I would add that when people find their pleasure zone at work, they inevitably attain and sustain excellence in their workplace performance. If you study peak performers in any field, you inevitably discover people who gain tremendous pleasure from what they do.

Consequently, coaching someone to achieve and maintain performance excellence at work is not just about assisting them master new skills or behaviors. It’s about helping them find their Workplace Pleasure Zone. An individual enters this zone when their work environment (individual responsibilities, team roles and organizational culture) engages and sustains their whole self. This is why temperament theory can be such a powerful tool for coaching.

As used here, temperament refers to an innate pattern or system of how a human being is organized psychologically. This pattern is revealed through characteristic needs, values, and talents. These three aspects are interrelated and form a unified whole. A person’s temperament is not a random clustering of certain traits or behaviors. A systemic hierarchy and interconnectedness exists between these aspects of temperament, creating a recognizable pattern in one’s behaviors.

The core of a person’s temperament is their psychological needs. Each of the four temperaments has particular and differing needs (for example, Artisans need the freedom to act on their impulses and the ability to make an immediate impact while Guardians need to have membership and belonging, and to act responsibly). These needs create one’s fundamental motivations in life. Failure to meet temperament-based needs causes tremendous stress and discouragement and is a frequent source of lackluster performance at work. Conversely, performing work that inherently satisfies these needs places someone in their Workplace Pleasure Zone. Work that meets such fundamental motivations is deeply satisfying and highly motivating.

Those we coach are rarely conscious of these needs. A primary coaching focus is thus helping people develop an awareness of their temperament-based needs so they can choose environments, tasks and roles that will meet these needs and lead them into their Workplace Pleasure Zone.

Emerging out of one’s psychological needs is a core set of values specific to each temperament. Temperament values are not the same as personal values (for example, whether you think unions are a valuable part of our society, or whether you think vegetarianism is the right way for people to eat). Temperament values are shared by everyone of that temperament and they naturally and systemically arise from the psychological needs of that temperament. Thus if one of your core needs is for knowledge and competence (the Rational temperament) it is natural and necessary for you to value such things as concepts and ideas, ultimate truth, theories, intelligence, and expert relationships.

Working in an organizational culture or a job that either ignores or violates these values causes profound distress, negatively impacting performance. It is virtually impossible to maintain peak performance when one’s most basic values are not being nourished or worse, are being debased. Conversely, working where one’s values are esteemed and engaged creates a profound sense of deep pleasure leading to lasting performance excellence. Thus, it is wise for coaches to help “coachees” explore the degree of fit between their temperament and the operating values of their organization, department, team, and individual responsibilities. This knowledge can empower individuals to either create or find work environments that sustain their innate values.

Nature organizes itself in living systems. In a living system, there are always means for the organism to meet its needs. In the human temperament system each individual possesses an array of talents designed to enable someone to act upon their core values and meet their psychological needs. Each temperament is thus sustained through a related set of skills. For example, someone with an Idealist temperament who needs meaning and significance and a unique identity, who values authenticity, self-actualization, unity, and cooperative interaction, naturally possess talents such as diplomacy, mentoring, facilitating and revealing people’s meaning.

These temperament-based talents comprise a person’s natural area of giftedness. An individual will certainly possess other abilities (learned or innate) but it is the consistent use and ongoing development of one’s temperament talents that keeps someone in the very centre of their Workplace Pleasure Zone. Thus, the discovery, development, and deployment of a coachee’s temperament-based talents are central to achieving and sustaining peak performance at work and need to form a central focus of an effective coaching relationship.

Alignment between someone’s workplace environment and their temperament needs, values, and talents releases a tremendous and lasting sense of pleasure in one’s work. Coaches who understand and employ temperament have a powerful tool to help those they coach enter the Workplace Pleasure Zone and excel at what they do.