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Growing through our interactions with each other

Humanism in Coaching – Interview with Success Coach Michael Löhner

By Christian Roth (Text and Fotos)

For over 50 years, Michael Löhner has been working with entrepreneurs, executives, politicians and companies to help them succeed in their dealings with one another. Taking a humanist approach, his training methods enhance people’s persuasiveness, problem solving abilities and confidence in their private and professional relationships. OnLocation met the man from Braunschweig, Germany for an interview to talk to him about management, leadership culture and coaching in leadership positions.

ON LOCATION: Michael, you have years of experience in consulting and coaching. Why do managers and entrepreneurs need a coach?

Michael Löhner: Managers should seek a coach if they feel that they can still improve their performance in everyday life. I believe, for example, that I could be more intelligent and could reason better. I also think that I could make improvements to the way I deal with my emotions, self-control and my ethics. Both in my social life and behaviour, I feel I could improve. There is a saying: “Never live below your level”. Coaches are there to help people develop their personalities for the better.

Can you expand on your slogan, “Growing through our interactions with each other”?

The value of a relationship is that, firstly, you are able to more realistically assess yourself through another pe rson. Knowledge is all about exchange between two people. Everyone is a communication partner, and everyone is a relationship partner. Interacting with someone is a great opportunity to recognise yourself in someone else and see things from a different perspective. And that is something that we can make the most of. You can make people more sensitive. According to Wittgenstein, “You only see what you know”. And, of course, if you don’t know how to recognise personality traits, you won’t see them. Most managers I have coached show areas where they can clearly improve. They are living below their potential. They could improve many aspects of their personality, whether it be in their social lives, reasoning, emotional control or spiritual side, if only they knew how. It’s just that many people don’t learn about this in school.

Michael Löhner has been working as a successful executive coach for over 50 years.

What do you think of the current hype around coaching?

For me, it is a natural development. Because of the coronavirus, a lot of trust has been lost in areas where we look for leadership, such as politics and medicine.
This means that currently people are feeling disorientated and lost. “Why am I here? What did I want to do? What is my identity with the company? How should you deal with executives?” People have more and more questions and no answers. And so, if we take a humanistic perspective, it is a question of the lack of ethics that is becoming stronger and stronger. He who has a ‘why’, endures every ‘how’.
But this ‘why’ is just missing in our professional and private lives. And so they turn for professionals to help guide them. Not necessarily to give them directions, but to encourage them so that people have their own ‘why’ and ‘how’.
The coach’s job is to unleash that ability in people so that they have more certainty. And that’s why we are seeing an increasing demand for coaching.

What approach are you taking, and why do you think it’s the right approach?

Because the right approach is focused on a clear and complete reality. What is man? What can he do? What could he do? And this is firmly described in a person’s personality. Humanistic coaching, this holistic personality coaching, has of course a greater chance of making people happier and more satisfied than if you consider just one aspect like breathing techniques, esotericism or movement therapy. Humanistic coaching covers all dimensions.

„And so I think you don’t necessarily have to be able to do what you teach, but you have to be able to teach it. And then it becomes your own“.

Michael Löhner

Success coaching in the open air

How did you get into coaching?

Well, I have a classical education in philosophy, psychology and several other subjects, and I have held a lot of seminars. In these seminars, there were some individual training sessions in which people were trained in individual areas. I did this for years, until I read in the newspaper that this is called coaching.

Your background went from studying, and you said to yourself, I can learn something, but to get really good at it, I’m going to start teaching it.

So, if by learning we mean changing behaviour based on experience, then one can ask the question: “How does a person actually learn?”
By the way, one of my books, “Enterprise means learning”, looks at this. You end up with the classic methods, such as Imitation, trial and error and conditioning, and then the trick that deeply embeds knowledge and behaviour – teaching.
The moment I teach something and put another person in a situation where they are able to do it, I deal with it so much internally that I automatically change. And so I think you don’t necessarily have to be able to do what you teach, but you have to be able to teach it. And then it becomes your own.

KENSINGTON CEO Mehrdad Bonakdar at a seminar held by Michael Löhner.

When did you start coaching?

Exactly 52 years ago. I have always done it. I grew up in a monastery and dealing with people has always been something that fascinated me.

In which monastery, may I ask?

I was in the Aloisiuskolleg Bad Godesberg, a Jesuit monastery.

I do find that very exciting. Meditation and spending time with yourself were surely part of the agenda there. I personally find meditation very powerful.

Meditation comes from ‘e medium ire’, which means ‘going to the centre of myself’. Thinking changes the brain materially. A material change happens in the brain.
When it comes to mind-entry in humanism, you have to say that everything in your personality becomes big and the focus of your attention because it forms the brain accordingly. In the end, it is about control over your own thinking. So, I think what I want to think and not what ‘sits well’ to me. With control over one’s own thinking, one has already made a significant step.

Who have been your customers in the last 10 to 20 years?

Well, the better question would be: Who weren’t they? I have flown around the world, given leadership seminars in Singapore and coached teams in Shanghai. My target group at first were the DAX companies, particularly board members. Then, I got a lot of requests from start-ups to train teams to work well together. I introduced the religious rule from monasteries with nuns. Sales, leadership, schools. After 50 years, you’ve been everywhere, or you’re not there anymore. I’ve had many politicians and artists in one-on-one coaching.

How do you know if someone has developed in their social skills?

When someone realises that they can deal better with their emotions and reasoning and that their previous approaches were unsuitable, they can clearly see their social development. The last inquiries, were: Can I improve my natural authority? Can I learn how to gain majority support for my own opinion among others?
There you land with the term: natural authority – an aura, which other people voluntarily and respectfully follow. And this can be learned.

How has the coaching business changed in recent years?

What has changed is that people are becoming more and more recipe-like in their approach to individual problems: How do I generate creativity? How do I find applied examples in my mind? In relationship coaching: How do I hold on to someone who desperately wants to leave? How do I make sure that someone leaves who desperately wants to stay? How do I make sure that someone comes when they are not yet sure that they absolutely should stay? These are all special cases to me.

My God, there’s coaching “How do I eat with chopsticks in Beijing?”

So that has separated out, to particular needs and situations.
Whereas the approach that I take, taking a humanistic and holistic approach towards people, has become rarer. One looks at individual cases in one’s emotions or wherever else. That has changed.

As an entrepreneur, how can you convince your managers that further development is the absolute basis for success?

By first talking about the consequences of not developing and their reduced potential as a result. The motivation is: Don’t live below your level, don’t live below your potential. Develop wherever possible, for your benefit and the benefit of others.
When it comes to leaders, one would just have to say that without the ability and willingness to build trust, leadership is never viable.

Now I have another question. You once said the following sentence: Do you want to be a salesperson, or do you want to build trust? Can you please explain that in more detail.

Yes, sorry. I don’t see any contradiction in that at all. It’s almost synonymous. Trust follows understanding. When a person feels understood, they develop trust. This applies to managers and salespeople. I want to influence people in my own way, positively of course, and to do that, I have to be close to them. I have to understand them, their intentions, their principles, their needs, their goals and their personality. And when they sense that I understand them, then trust comes naturally, whether for sales or leadership or teamwork.
Trust is a central concept at the moment anyway, because when it comes to content and expertise, people naturally sense that we’re always talking to people. Everything we do basically follows a relationship interest. And if I perceive that, then I create a quality relationship through trust. This makes it easier to discuss, clarify and solve problems.

Would you like to conclude with something for the readers?

Of course, the central message of humanism: “We want people to become greater in their dealings with each other”. And that should actually be in mind with every encounter. I want to make you greater, and I hope that I will also become greater through you.

Thank you very, very much. I hope so too.

Jetzt habe ich noch eine Frage. Du hast einmal folgenden Satz gesagt: „Möchtest du Verkäufer sein, oder möchtest du Vertrauen aufbauen?“ Kannst du das bitte näher erläutern?

Ich sehe darin überhaupt keinen Widerspruch. Das ist fast synonym. Vertrauen folgt dem Verstehen. Und wenn ein Mensch sich verstanden fühlt, kann er Vertrauen entwickeln. Das gilt natürlich sowohl für die Führungskraft als auch für den Verkäufer. Ich will Menschen in meinem Sinne, natürlich positiv, beeinflussen. Dazu muss ich ihnen nahe sein. Ich muss sie verstehen, in ihren Absichten, in ihren Grundsätzen, in ihren Bedürfnissen, in ihren Zielen, in ihrer Persönlichkeit. Und wenn sie spüren, dass ich sie verstehe, dann entsteht das Vertrauen, ob nun für Verkauf oder für Führung oder für Teamarbeit, von selbst.
Vertrauen ist im Moment sowieso ein zentraler Begriff. Weil die Leute innerhalb der inhaltlichen Kompetenz natürlich spüren, dass wir immer mit Menschen reden. Alles was wir tun, folgt prinzipiell einem Beziehungsinteresse. Und wenn ich das wahrnehme, dann gestalte ich durch das Vertrauen eine Beziehungsqualität. Diese ist problemlösend, da sich mit dieser Grundlage alles besser erörtern und klären lässt.

Möchtest du abschließend den Lesern noch etwas mitgeben?

Natürlich die zentrale Botschaft des Humanismus: „Wir wollen, dass Menschen im Umgang miteinander größer werden.“ Und das sollte in jeder Begegnung eigentlich oben schweben. Ich möchte dich größer machen und ich hoffe, dass ich durch Dich auch größer werde.

Vielen Dank. Das hoffe ich auch.