Coach’s Corner: Martin Iversen

This month, we talk to Martin Iversen, about how he incorporates Red2Blue into his coaching. Martin spent almost 10 years in the UK police service before going on to enjoy a 25-year career in the energy industry, working internationally in operations support, safety and Crisis and Emergency Management. He talks about how he now uses Red2Blue in his own business, Coaching4Performance, working with international clients across a variety of industries and service sectors.

Martin also continues to consult in safety, security and crisis management and emergency response (CMER) where he uses Red2Blue. He’s currently working with a major international energy player, building out and implementing a global CMER framework.

Martin’s experience with Gazing began about five years ago, when one of his clients asked him if he knew anything about Red2Blue. He didn’t, but instead of saying no, Martin did what any good consultant would do, nodded, and immediately set off to find out more! “Thinking back, that in itself was a true R2B moment,” he says. “I spoke with the Gazing team the next day and did my initial training a short time later. I’ve since done the Advance Programme and added many more tools to the toolbox.”

Martin Iversen on performance under pressure
Martin Iversen

Respond, don’t react

Having enjoyed a long and varied career, Martin acknowledges that Red2Blue would have been a useful tool in so many different situations: from his time as a police officer on the streets of London in the 1980s to working in emergency response and security in the major hazard oil and gas production industry, or in his early leadership roles.  He often found himself in remote and harsh environments leading Response and Incident Management Teams, during abnormal or emergency situations.

“I learnt very quickly – a lot of the time on the job. I’ve had some excellent mentors over the years, and have a strong academic and management science foundation,” he says, “but I’m sure I haven’t handled everything well; there have been mistakes. While you rely on your growing experience, what worked well in one context, might not in another, so you have to adapt.” This taught Martin the importance of responding rather than reacting – taking a step back, or zooming out, to get a good understanding of any situation before deciding what to do and stepping back in.   

You don’t have time not to think

He believes people don’t generally make poor or bad decisions because of a lack of knowledge or experience, but rather because the pressure gets to them. “You often hear people say they didn’t have time to think, but I’d say you don’t have time not to think,” he says.

“I think sometimes, people don’t realise that everything we do in life is about performance, and therefore subject to pressure. When we talk about Red Head situations – being overwhelmed, stuck, worried about what to do or what people will say, or who’s watching, that can happen to anyone in any situation.”

Martin sums up pressure as expectation, scrutiny, and consequences. Recognising you’re under pressure and understanding how you react to this – seeing the early signs or knowing that they are going to be there and anticipating and planning around them – is key.

The common language of Red2Blue

Now Martin uses Red2Blue almost every day. “It’s a common language in our house. My son often tells me I’m being a bit of a Red Head and he’s put Red2Blue to good use himself ahead of school exams. The ‘Control Circles’ and ‘What If’ tools are very helpful for exam prep, as well, of course, as the Control of Attention.”

Red2Blue has become a complementary addition to the other coaching tools Martin uses. “As a coach, we tend to work in the area of ask, don’t tell. It’s about facilitating a process of understanding where people are, and where they want to get to. It really is Red2Blue in many ways – creating the gap. There are lots of Why? questions – digging deep, understanding motives and motivation.”

Planning for the year ahead

When it comes to planning for the year ahead, Martin has two rules of thumb. Firstly, no matter what you’re trying to do, it’s essential to know where you are, where you want to go (or what you want to do) and have a clear understanding and plan of how you’re going to get there. Secondly, be open: widen your view of the opportunities that are available. “There’s a massive world out there and it starts when you open your mind,” he says.

While there’s plenty of information available about Goal Setting, Martin says the key is to take action, to do something that moves you forward towards where you want to be. “This is where Red2Blue really helps. People spend so much time stuck with a Red Head. They worry about past failures and events, fear of the future, getting it wrong, messing up, concern about what others might think. I spend a lot of time on this type of conversation,” he says.

Progress is rarely in a straight line, which is where the concept of the Red2Blue Map comes in handy. “We talk about the control of attention, with Red/Blue being Diverted or On Task. Having a map helps you not just see the destination, but also other ways to get there if the way is blocked, or a bit bumpy.  There is always another way. I use my own life and career path as an example – it’s not all been rosy.”

Structure, Skillset, Mindset

Martin uses the framework of Structure, Skillset, Mindset with his clients, “There is no secret to performance, there is a system to performance”. He likes to ensure they are working or developing within a structure. This could be as simple as the common PDCA cycle or the GROW model common in coaching, or simply the people and equipment they need to have around them.”

“Skillset refers to the skills they’re going to use or need for what they’re planning to do. People often let the fact that they don’t know how to do something put them off, rather than stepping up to learn new skills,” he notes.  

But it starts and ends with Mindset – not just having the right Mindset but having the framework and tools to help manage the thoughts and feelings that impact what we do. That involves working through all of the ‘Red Head’ issues that stop people moving forward and helping to develop them to ACT – being Aware, Clear and On Task (Blue Head).

Red2Blue in emergencies

Martin also applies Red2Blue in the CMER work he does. He works with organisations in the major hazard, processing industry, where employees at all levels of the company have to take on emergency roles. “In the event of an incident, they change hats, literally in some cases, and become firefighters, emergency medics, emergency team leaders and Incident Controllers,” Martin says.

“One minute, they’re working in an office, a laboratory or workshop and the next in an emergency operations centre, dealing with a major incident.” While they have training, it’s not their main job, so Red2Blue has become an essential tool to incorporate into the emergency management training he gives.

Don’t let other people put you off

When Martin looks back at advice he’s been given over the years, there are three things that stand out. When he was leaving school, he remembers being told to ‘Be honest, be your own man’. “Today, I think that translates to, understand and be true to yourself and your values – be authentic. Whatever, you do or don’t do, be yourself,” he says.

There have been many times during his career where people have questioned why Martin was doing something – from giving up a ‘job for life’ and leaving his hometown to join the police when he was younger, to taking on an international assignment in not the nicest of places, or starting his own consultancy. His second piece of advice then, is “Take risks – don’t be intimidated. Don’t let other people put you off.”

Only action moves you forward

Finally, one that he uses almost every day and, in his coaching – make a decision. “This advice was given to me in my first senior leadership role. I was talking about an issue with my then boss, who became a long-time friend and mentor. He stopped me and said, ‘You have to make a decision Martin, it won’t get better by talking or waiting.”

Avoiding making a decision is a stumbling block for many of Martin’s clients. “Deciding to do nothing”, he says, “might be the right thing to do, as long as it’s a definite decision, and you’re not copping out.”

“When you’ve done all the thinking, the analysis, all the goal setting, all the strategising. You’ve had all the meetings, taken all the opinions and views. When you’ve written, re-written and reviewed the plans – take action. Do what you said you were going to do. You have to do something; only action moves you forward.”  

You can find out more about the work Martin does at Coaching4Performance, or email him at [email protected].

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