I am curious about what most underpins effective coaching – such as the curiosity of the coach by Jeremy Ridge

I am curious about why curiosity gets my attention as something that is fundamental to effective coaching.

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I am interested in the importance of the personal curiosity of the coach. After all, they are a central part of the whole process. The curiosity of the coachee, about their own learning process, is more easily appreciated as critical. However, traditional approaches to coaching, of course, tend to place the coach as the expert with all the answers, rather than someone also searching for answers, about exactly how best to behave as the coach. However where coaching seems up to, such as in being non directive, or in such as the principles of adult learning, appear to suggest a very different approach to expertise is appropriate. 

There are already plenty of terms and frameworks about coaching in use; but curiosity doesn’t seem to be one of them. And yet there is something that continues to attract my attention in the particular meaning to be found in curiosity. So I am interested in exploring this. It’s a curiosity thing!


1. Starting with being curious about others interest in curiosity

I start with a short summary of the range of views that gives some picture about others interest in curiosity – as I see them as connected to coaching.
In particular I would start with Einstein’s view as suggesting some particularly powerful perspective for what the term is about.

1.1. Einstein on curiosity

A good illustration of why curiosity is important can be summed up in quotes reported from Time magazine’s person of the century, Albert Einstein [1]:  

 “I have no special talent. I am just passionately curious”

For someone such as Albert Einstein to share such a perception as a person with no special talents is astounding. And then he identifies his only talent is a passion for curiosity. 
He also suggests curiosity as the central driver of life, even. [2]

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvellous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day.”

This perspective suggests the fundamental importance of continuous progress, and building of insight and understanding, as the real meaning of Curiosity. It is continuously building, as awareness, by finding the next frontier of what needs to be understood.  Curiosity is not just a moment to moment experience, shifting in the wind, but something more coherent; it’s about choosing how to live overall. 

Importantly for Einstein, Curiosity is a fundamental drive that starts everything, as well as a way that life can be explored. 

1.2. How curiosity matters to me in Coaching

For myself, I am intensely aware, and thus curious, about how each new person I meet holds a completely unique and different experience of life from my own. Access to this then adds to my own experience of life.

Of course, we can share similar experiences at some levels, especially with features that are the commonplace fabric of social life.

So, there is always a need to prepare for how unique and different that people, the Coachee, can be in Coaching.  It becomes important to move further on from what may be more polite social exchanges about everyday matters – eg the weather! 

I find I can get an intense stimulus because it holds my whole interest from experiencing this difference. And I often find this awareness can be fundamental to creating those elusive conditions for engaging the other person to start to explore, and share, where they are up to in their experience of their life.

But as I still seem to be experiencing use of the idea of curiosity in a way that is different from everyday use by some others; how does this compare with my own understanding and practice of coaching where the level of interest in other people can be important.


2. Other views about curiosity

2.1. Origin of the word:

Words are important to us. As life and society evolves, so the meanings of words can grow, and even change from their original use.

The origin of the word curiosity, and its meaning, in English, is reported [3] as from the sense of the term care. This emphasis given is also about being careful, with a quality of continued attention that is central, and important, in the meaning. 

More recent meanings of curiosity in dictionaries can refer more to it being eager to know or learn something … and something that might be strange. It can be used in a sense that is more for odd, single events or circumstances.

2.2. Other popular meanings:

Curiosity seems to be less studied as a term in the more academic world. However there are others who have picked up on the term.

“Curiosity is not an only child; it is part of a family of terms used by writers, scientists, and everyday people making conversation to capture the essence of recognising, seeking out, and showing a preference for the new.” Todd Kashdan [4]

A good overall summary about curiosity is in an article, “The Power of Curiosity” shared by the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) in the UK [5]

Curiosity is a multi-dimensional concept with no single definition, and overlaps extensively with related concepts, including creativity, inquisitiveness and openness to experience. In the context of this conceptual ambiguity, we approached curiosity through the following working definition: a focussed or exploratory inquisitiveness that motivates us to connect what we don’t know to what we do know

….. We uncovered three main theories about the nature of curiosity, how it comes about and why we feel it. 

The first, almost biological in nature, is that curiosity is a human drive, much like hunger or thirst, which is satiated by the acquisition of knowledge. The drive theory helps to explain the seemingly paradoxical use of resources (such as time or effort) to gain knowledge or experiences; analogous to the resources used to satiate hunger.

The second theory, more cognitive in nature, is that curiosity is evoked by incongruity between something (an event, object, etc.) and a person’s existing world view. We try to make sense of the world around us, and when an expectation about the way the world works is violated, curiosity is piqued

A third model, building on incongruity theories, but slightly more emotional in nature, frames curiosity as the desire to close an information gap between a given reference point (some desired knowledge) and a person’s existing information set. This model proposed by George Loewenstein “interprets curiosity as a form of cognitively induced deprivation that arises from the perception of a gap in knowledge or understanding.”

This summary, again, represents tensions between whether curiosity is a process, or something more fundamental as a drive. There can also be an over emphasis that Curiosity may only be driven by some negative experience. However, especially in Coaching, Curiosity can be about looking for something more positive, such as in the sense of opportunities for the Coachee which may be more of a pleasant experience. It may even be key to balancing brain activity, how to find a balance between being bored, and overwhelmed, by stimulee. And where capacity for finding this balance may be the result of efficiencies achieved in making sense arising out of the way curiosity progresses and builds over time.

2.3. Other, still emerging, studies contributing to Coaching – ranging from mindfulness to positive psychology

There are increasing numbers of initiatives around which want to find the more positive approach to life, seeking opportunities not problems; whether to look at where we are in our lives as a glass half full, rather than half empty.

Mindfulness can emphasise stimulating awareness arising from the moment in immediate time; for example the Merriam Webster Dictionary defines it as:

the practice of maintaining a non-judgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one's thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis;[6]

In a recent newly launched journal about Mindfulness, Cathy Theaker [7] writes

Developing an evidence-based integrative model of coaching and mindfulness would complement mindfulness-based interventions in accordance with the positivist drive for standardisation, however currently many practitioners use mindfulness idiosyncratically. Chapman-Clarke (2016 and this issue) calls for an integrative approach, contextualised for the practitioner’s specific setting. 

Even academic Psychology is also now experimenting, through some curiosity, of what is referred to as Positive Psychology.  Some quite amazing mind maps of emerging approaches to positive psychology appear to embrace a very open minded approach to how to explore what this perspective may be about, [8] but it does not appear to have got to curiosity yet!

2.4. Reflection

I can appreciate, also, that for some people, reflection is an increasingly referred to term that they would interpret as having meaning close to curiosity. In the sense of a process contributing to enhanced internal awareness about matters. My own view of the term is that it is one part of a process of making sense of things; and that it is more part of a process than the sort of fundamental drive that the term curiosity brings.

2.5. Implications arising from others perspectives about Curiosity

There seems to be a lot of energy growing in a direction towards what Curiosity speaks to; albeit sometimes approaching through slightly different lenses.  However there is also quite a range of different uses of the term.

Some attention to the evidence, and understanding of how curiosity works for me, in practice is also worth consideration.


3. Evidence of my own practice patterns where curiosity matters significantly?

Given it is the behaviour of the coach that matters, how to behave curiously in a manner that is appreciated by another person can be important.

For the Coach, it is about removing any assumptions, rather like having a clean and open mind. And then, how to balance this with what could be seen as excessive curiosity is another challenge.

For me, curiosity is a choice about a way of life. It doesn’t start because it’s a subject at school, or a training course. For some reason, I hold a constant fascination with people. I stumbled increasingly into the world of listening and appreciating how different other peoples’ worlds are. What their attention was drawn to and how they were making sense of it across all walks of life is a form of constant research.

I can consider, briefly how my curiosity drive comes to operate in some examples of practice.

3.1. Adding curiosity to the definitive nature of using Psychometrics in Coaching!

If I introduce a psychometric profiling exercise to the coaching process,  I have to work hard to get across the need to be more curious about the unique nature of the person, than to appear as though they are being reduced to their psychometric profile, as an over simple generalisation.

I find psychometrics can help introduce important perspectives, about individual differences, for example, but which often then need to devolve into the Coachees ideas, and words about the perspectives involved. People can strongly prefer to make their own sense of themselves and how they fit into the mix of others.

Quite often Psychometric terms use every day language, but with quite particular meanings. In feeding back a profile, I am careful to be curious to all the signals given by the Coachee for their reactions to the terms used.

I have to be curious enough to pick up examples from the Coachee’s account of their experiences that can then be useful to illustrate and clarify features of any Coachee profile, and preferences.

Psychometrics can give permission to explore areas not encouraged? in every day discussions between people; but it is important to use them as an introduction, a gateway, a way of enabling deeper curiosity to get into the dialogue, rather than an end in themselves.

3.2. Being curious enough to enable links with the wider picture of the Coachee’s life and/or work

Coaching dialogues can open up into a very wide ranging dialogue around matters the Coachee sees as relevant to the opportunity that Coaching can invite.

Coaching has to start somewhere. 

Executive coaching typically starts with the objective/s. These are often set by others for the coaching sessions; e.g. the boss. The objective may be set as a generalisation, or headline, about a feature of the Coachee’s work behaviour, or performance.

Some Coaching approaches then go further into limiting the scope for curiosity by the Coach setting the method by which the coaching process will work. This can ensure they can get some control of the process. It seems, to me, like the Coach may then be setting and controlling the agenda to meet their own limited capacity for really relating to where the other person is coming from.

There are, indeed, times when micro, and contained, examination of the detail of some aspect of the Coachee’s agenda works well within these constraints and structure.

However, there are also times when the objective has to be seen as a symptom of something, rather than a definition of the agenda. And where the exploration needs to go with the Coachee needs to be much wider.

For example, starting with a typical objective such as ‘improve relationships with colleagues’, might be about some particular habits that needs to be explored in detail, or it may well lead to issues more to do with the Coachee having some personal values that are at stake. They may want to work in a completely different sort of job, or organisation culture, altogether. This can lead to even career, as well as life circumstances which are really behind the symptom that started the agenda.

There has to be the alertness and interest, or curiosity, with a real relaxation and comfort about whatever level the other person wants to get to; as well as the process they may want to go through in order to go where they may want. The coachee has to lead, and the Coach follow, in order to get the balance right.

3.3. The importance of curiosity at the start of coaching

One of the most noticeable ways I can sense, and see, my curiosity working is at the very start of coaching dialogue – the first moments of meeting.

I do mean moments, not minutes. A meeting begins when people first see each other – before words even start. Even more, a meeting may have actually started before being in each other’s physical presence; through information either party has had in relation to the other through a wide range of channels – planned or unplanned.

Typically I will have carried out some research about the person beforehand. Likewise the Coachee also has prior information that has started to form views about what to expect. It is important to be curious about this lest it may not be wholly appropriate.

However the start in the sense of physical presence, is where the Coachee is still forming questions about what to expect, as a result of first impressions, and all that can suggest. Being curious about this sort of often unspoken background is critical for how attention is given. 

I also find my curiosity can make an important difference to what appears to surprise Coachees through the important factor of sustaining attention over time, and depth, of the messages emerging, as well as evidencing just immediate attention, to the important messages someone is often offering. Coachees often will test as to whether the coach is really interested in them, or there is some superficiality that starts to emerge.

This is where I can sense that for myself, this is not an effort for me. My curiosity is substantial; and it is more a case of where I have to be careful to rein it in according to the other person’s own interest in sharing their experience of something of their world. I am always aware of all the other questions I would be curious to ask!


4. Conclusions and Next Steps

Considering curiosity in this way has left me with a view that curiosity is something like dark matter, as referred to in the study of the universe’s large scale structure. There is something involved that is still difficult to explain, and is, in that sense, relatively invisible, but very fundamentally important.

Likewise, it raises itself as a way of appreciating some deeper drives, rather than simply as part of a process. For me, also, Curiosity sits as a feature that is even a fundamental drive, and source of emotional stimulus in life. Something that drives everything about life, even. 

I can appreciate there may well still be concepts for understanding people that are yet to be appreciated, beyond such as intelligence, and personality etc. Likewise, the ease of learning about people’s experiences of life may be more easily understood by starting at the end of where there are problems, and focussing on the negative and bad experiences people are raising, which may become the only focus of giving attention to people.

Certainly curiosity is difficult to measure. It is also an unusual form of energy.

This short exploration has certainly registered the idea for me as something deserving further consideration about how to give what is involved better shape, as well as appreciation for its importance in practice, going forwards.

Again, for myself, curiosity is what practice is about. And is fundamental to what I believe Coaching also is about – ways to appreciate diversity of human experience.

I also find the open nature of how the good coach invites consideration of how practice works – for practitioners in this field of coaching to be important. There is a sense of being able to be genuinely independent in the perspective that practice can be considered.

To connect with Jeremy Ridge

References
1    https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/a/alberteins174001.html
2  "Old Man's Advice to Youth: 'Never Lose a Holy Curiosity.'" LIFE Magazine (2 May 1955) p 64
3    https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/curious
4    Kashdan, T. (2009). Curious? New York: Harper Collins Publishers. 
5    https://www.thersa.org/globalassets/pdfs/blogs/rsa-social-brain-the-power-of-curiosity.pdf
6     https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/mindfulness
7    www.theijmc.com
8    http://positivepsychology.org.uk/what-is-positive-psychology/

How going up a mountain really can make you believe you can do anything by Liz Hill-Smith (Guest Author)

Approaching the summit at dawn – photo by Sam Hill-Smith

Approaching the summit at dawn – photo by Sam Hill-Smith

In March, following hot on the heels of a failed attempt to summit Mont Blanc last summer, my husband, son and I joined a party of adventurous people to climb Kilimanjaro.  I’m not quite sure why this phase of our lives is so characterised by these challenges, but hey, those of you who know me well will understand that I like this kind of thing.

What hit me as we summitted was an incredible sense not only of achievement, but that I had achieved something I didn’t think I would be able to do.  And it had seemed actually fairly easy. As we walked down, a hell of a lot more quickly than we walked up, I found myself thinking about this, and discussing it with some of our fellow travellers.

I also reflected on it in the context of coaching and learning – in the sense of helping others on a journey, and also in the way of how such life experiences can initiate powerful personal change in our belief systems.

What I concluded was that I do now really believe that I can achieve anything I set my mind to – and that I now know how to do that.  It’s a bit like when I discovered the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow (another subject for another time – but it really is there!).  There are a few things you have to take care of to make these big goals happen.  And I think these lessons are really valuable and worth sharing.  The first three are quite obvious, but the last three hold rich and important lessons.

  1. Know what you are trying to achieve.  With a mountain, it is quite simple, you are trying to get to the top, and get down safely.  With many other types of goals, being really clear about what it is you are actually trying to achieve is still so important.  It often gets lost in translation along the way.  Keep it in focus.
  2. Plan and prepare realistically and well.  Lots of planning, discussions and research took place in the months leading up to our ascent.  Will that jacket be warm enough? Will that sleeping bag be OK?  Do we need to take Diamox, malarials, Hep B?  How many snacks?  How will we access non-frozen water at the top?  Etc..  Really thinking through how summit night would be, without ever having experienced anything like it, helped get those decisions right, as well as talking to those who had been before.  When I think of big successful projects I have been involved with in my life, it is where this planning and thinking through has been done well.  Where it has been skimped or over optimistic, things have rarely worked out so well.
  3. Have a great team – our support team were amazing. Their guidance and support was perfect and the culture and atmosphere they created enabled us all to feel well cared for and capable.  

Now those things are fairly obvious, but are still really important.  Often when coaching, I find one of these three is missing.  The coaching often serves to clarify the goal, seek out a better understanding of the challenges of the journey, perhaps by finding new mentors who have done parts of that journey before, by strengthening the team in some way, or by identifying support or resources that are needed.  

But in my heart, I know that the second three were really key to our success.

  1. Know and take care of your body – we were encouraged to become very tuned to our bodies, our breathing, our diet, our water intake, basic hygiene, our toileting, our headaches etc.  Being aware of our bodies and able to slow down and breathe when the thin air seemed just a bit too thin was really important.  Being really in tune with your body is something we don’t do enough of in modern life.  Lack of sleep, poor diet and fitness show up in how we are and how we think.  Yet it makes a big difference.  That awareness continues and I am enjoying its benefits now I am back in normal life.
  2. Step by step – our speed was slow.  Our guide prided himself on being the slowest guide on the mountain, but he also had the highest success rate.  Our carefully measured ascent at times resembled a shuffling post office queue, but those in other parties who rushed ahead were too often caught by the altitude and had to stop or descend.  As each step was in the right direction, we got there in the end – all of us – even the older members of the group, and those with medical conditions.  This metaphor works too for other real world challenges – sometimes, short cuts just aren’t worth it.  Patience is key. The patience required by step by step is also a real lesson for me.  I am a fast rushy kind of person.  I don’t like to take things slow, but now I find myself asking “is this step taking me closer to where I am trying to get to?”  And if it is, I am more able to be patient.  Again, I am reaping the benefits of this.
  3. Enjoy the journey!  At the summit, although it was amazing views and a great sense of achievement, most of us actually felt pretty rubbish.  Nauseous mainly, a bit cold, and pretty tired.  The whole experience though, the laughter and friendships in camp, the rituals of our days, popcorn and afternoon tea, the moonlit views, the ice on the tents, and the often hilarious discussions of bodily functions, these were all part of the amazing experience that made up the whole journey.  So cherish the journey, savour the moments and surprises along the way.  Look for joy in the unexpected.  As is so often true, this incredible journey really was about being in each moment.  

It is these last three that we and our coachees can so easily miss, and if we do we can burn ourselves out, or miss the real learnings and joy in the journey.  Checking in with how am I feeling?  Where is the energy?  What really takes me in that direction?  Is faster better?  How can I work smarter?  And how can I make sure I cherish the journey and the learning it brings along the way.  
 

To connect with Liz Hill-Smith

Liz Hill-Smith pic (9851).png

Liz is an APECS certified executive coach and organisational leadership and change consultant.  She creates the mental space for her clients to open new perspectives, flourish and succeed.  Having been a specialist in leadership, change, organisation development and strategic thinking for over 20 years, Liz is passionate about enabling leaders to develop empowering and transformative mindsets, often using constellations based approaches to create transformations in thinking and insight. 

How Actual Practice Informs Appreciation of the Complex Challenges in Effective Team Coaching by Sue Young

Introduction

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I am increasingly asked to do more team coaching, in addition to one to one coaching just by itself. I felt it would be an interesting time to take stock of my approach and review the underpinning principles / values I practice in my team coaching. 

  • In particular, working with the subtleties of how much communication in teams can be unspoken, directly. 
  • As well as covering such a range of different agendas, all at once!

I have also noticed that this is becoming a more general theme emerging in the field of coaching. Many terms such as action learning, peer groups etc. are already popular practices. I am especially interested in how team coaching can operate at the level more towards the scale of organisation development, involving a scale of issue involved, which can have wide implications around the organisation.


1. The natural opportunity for organisational Team Coaching, along with more dynamic challenges

For me, coaching organisational leadership teams is the most challenging form of coaching. This form of team coaching combines: 

  • The high quality individual attention of one to one coaching, with 
  • The highly dynamic, and open, interactive nature of working with a group of highly capable individuals on their challenges that requires the coach s to make judgement calls ‘on the hoof’. 

Being involved in this type of coaching has a scale of potential impact. Working with leadership teams, the whole system with its established dynamics and culture, lives in the room. 

I believe this form of coaching is a central part of organisation development for real. 

The potential value of a team coaching intervention lies in the likelihood of real organisational impact for this group of people both individually, and collectively. It will also have a major impact on the health and functioning of the whole organisation. 

I am going to review my approach here through a series of overview headline principles, along with some case illustrations. I hope in further blogs to explore some of the particular issues involved, in more detail. I have also taken the opportunity to review some of the writings in the field.


2. A sample of current, and popular, definitions of Team Coaching

A number of labels are thrown around in relation to working with teams – team building, team facilitation, team development – and now, team coaching. And in a similar fashion, there have been a number of attempts to define team coaching. Here are some examples:

2.1. Clutterbuck (2007) [1]  defines team coaching as “helping the team improve performance and the processes by which performance is achieved, through reflection and dialogue”
He introduces the term “performance” as task deliverables and also acknowledges attention to processes or ways of working. While at a general level, this all applies it does not reflect the organisational context that I see as such a fundamental underpinning of team coaching within organisations.

2.2. Kets de Vries (2005) [2]  ”Leadership team coaching is defined as leadership coaching in a group setting with the intention to establish a foundation of trust, develop the capacity to constructively resolve conflict and build accountability amongst its members in order to achieve better results for the organization”

De Vries brings in more organisation context through use of terms such as “leadership”, “constructively resolve conflict”, “accountability” and “results for the organization”.

What is missing from this for me is the interaction between the individual and the team, and how coaching addresses this.

2.3. Hawkins (2014) [3]  thought the title “systemic team coaching” to be more applicable to leadership teams in organisational settings, which he went on to define in more detail as follows:

“Systemic team coaching is a process by which a team coach works with a whole team, both when they are together and when they are apart, in order to help them improve both their collective performance and how they work together, and also how they develop their collective leadership to more effectively engage with all their key stakeholder groups to jointly transform the wider business”

I see this incorporating more explicitly the wider relational scope for team coaching, emphasising the individual more when he incorporates “when they are apart.”

In general terms this definition holds. In terms of my personal practice where it misses is on the quality of individual attention involved. At the end of the day if team coaching is going to have sustainable impact then it’s down to what each team member takes back into their part of the organisation.  

Each of these attempts of definitions still leaves me with a sense that more is needed. In my experience (and needs more attention) the reality of contracting and working as a Team Coach is highly variable, dynamic and responsive, and in line with the priorities and readiness of the client(s). 

The client is usually the Team Leader, formally, to start with, and then the team itself in a broader organisational context: 

  • Both in relation to the more tangible nature of the organisational Task
  • And the more intangible and usually unspoken aspects of the organisational culture. 

While in general terms the general definitions hold well they do not bring to life for me the organisational and people complexities involved.


3. Bringing Team Coaching to life, for me

So what are the features of how team coaching works, for me? 

I have had a number of different team leadership and team member roles in teams and worked as a consultant and coach with management teams in private and public sectors, both in the UK and internationally. 

Each principle have intuitively come to me but have been deeply embedded through my career. I run through a set of 12 key principles that’s guided my approach as headlines with a few comments.

  1. Are we a Team – what is our collective purpose? 
  2. The role of the team coach is an enabling one
  3. High quality of attention to individuals and their personal needs and contribution in their role.
  4. The Team leader as a crucial element, both enabler and blocker
  5. Working with differences more explicitly
  6. The need for continuous Contracting on several fronts
  7. Creating a climate of greater openness
  8. Bringing in external stakeholder perspectives
  9. Bringing in the big unspoken issues and hidden agendas
  10. Integrating personal feedback as part of the individual and collective learning process. 
  11. Designing in sustainability with team coaching interventions
  12. The essential value of an external professional sounding board / (supervision) in team coaching

While I draw from formal knowledge across a multidisciplinary field of theory, the most important ways I have learned is from my experience of working with teams and discussions with colleagues and clients, both on the job and in review afterwards. I see it as a continuous learning process, and this is a useful focus for me in checking out how it works, for me. 

1. ARE WE A TEAM – WHAT IS OUR COLLECTIVE PURPOSE? 

In my experience even the most capable and senior management teams struggle with (or even ignore) this one. 

Developing an effective leadership team requires focused investment of time and energy to establish common ground and a common team agenda to which everyone contributes.

In complex organisations individual’s area is a demanding, and of itself, is a complex and challenging leadership task. The senior team is also often geographically dispersed. In the day to day pace and thrust of organisational life individuals are often struggling with what they have on their plates - how are they going to cope with additional time /task commitment? Even time at team meetings often becomes a reporting ritual that adds little value and is just something to be got through

Much of the team coaching assignment is often around this; helping a team develop its own collective vision and common sense of purpose, and strategy in relation to the bigger organisational context. This thinking then informs individual focus and thinking,, for example what information do I hold from my area that the whole team needs to be aware of as it has an impact on our overall strategy? 

Strategy is a living thing that needs to be kept under continuous periodic review rather than something formally committed to paper then set aside while we get back to the real day-to-day business.

2. THE ROLE OF THE TEAM COACH IS AN ENABLING ONE

I see team coaching as an enabling role, rather than coming up with the solution.  The fundamental judgement calls about what to take forward in the organisation remain with the team. This links to the objectives for the coaching - around creating the conditions to enable the kinds of conversation needed to help the team find its own way forward. 

Of course the team coach is making the judgement call in collaboration with the client, around when to do what, in what sequence and identifying the kinds of stimulus or support needed. This, together with their credibility and the relationship they build with the team, are what they bring.

The role of Team Coach is multi-facetted – coach, mediator, facilitator, process provider, providing selective inputs around relevant frameworks, models, tools and ideas, observer, feedback giver and sometimes just to listen.

3. HIGH QUALITY OF ATTENTION TO INDIVIDUALS AND THEIR PERSONAL NEEDS AND CONTRIBUTION IN THEIR ROLE.

One of my aims is to help enable that individual to bring the best of themselves and their knowledge / experience into the team. I always aim, where possible to build in confidential individual sessions. 

Interestingly I tend not to name these sessions as ‘coaching’ as often that term is perceived as being remedial, implying some deficit, and can set up defensive barriers that would get in the way. 

The purpose of these individual sessions is to provide confidential space where team members can express ands develop their thinking about how they see the team’s objectives and their contribution to that. 

I usually aim to produce a compilation of anonymised answers to a few common cue questions around how they see a ‘bigger picture’ strategic perspective on the team’s Task, Processes and key relationships. For example how do they see priorities for the overall team, the main opportunities and challenges they see, and the scope they perceive for greater collaboration that would add greatest value to overall team objectives.

Often this very thinking process in itself is individually developmental in encouraging senior managers to take a more ‘whole-organisational’ and longer term strategic perspective

That then naturally leads into what they see as their current and potential contribution to the Department / Unit / whole-organisation overall objectives and an exploration of their leadership approach and engaging their people in the overall direction. How are they helping their mangers to develop and contribute to bigger organisational goals?

In my experience they often relish the luxury of that ‘space’ held by somebody else to think and reflect more than they would naturally otherwise do.

Of course the credibility, tone and style set by the Coach is critical. Do they trust and respect the Coach as a person sufficiently to be open to genuine exploration self-disclose? Do they believe their coach’s abilities to understand the nature of the business and leadership challenges they face?

4. THE TEAM LEADER AS A CRUCIAL ELEMENT, BOTH ENABLER AND BLOCKER

The tone and climate in a hierarchical world set by the team leader is critical. If people are going to open up to express whatever they really think, particularly if it is a different perspective or feedback that could be perceived as negative or difficult. They need to have the confidence that they will not be ‘punished’ or get a negative response.  
Usually the team leader leads / holds the formal contract. Even if the ‘paper’ contract is formally held elsewhere, e.g. by HR, then people will be looking to the formal leaders response. 

In my team coaching there are always individual sessions with the team leader.  I find usually they discount the inhibiting effect their formal position may be having on people’s willingness to share what they really think. 

The team leader can make a uniquely valuable contribution if they model the kinds of behaviour required to build trust and encourage collaborative ways of working. This often requires them to know how to be more open and self-disclosing with each of the individuals and the group as a collective. 

5. WORKING WITH DIFFERENCES MORE EXPLICITLY

In my experience the best teams comprise individuals with very different and complimentary strengths. I find selective use of psychometrics and profiling tools to help people make more sense of differences; some of them looks at personality style, others ways of working and ways of seeing the world. 

  • Instruments like Belbin’s Team Roles I particularly like in a team context as it is simple and people can relate easily to the needs of a team and different contributions required. 
  • The Strengths Deployment Inventory is another that I like with its specific focus on Strengths and different motivators and its ability to visualise a team and its dynamics around behaviour linked to personal values

Every coach has their preferred instruments. For me they are catalysts to helping people talk about personal differences in a way that is less threatening. It also provides fresh thinking about practical ways to improve working relationships

6. THE NEED FOR CONTINUOUS CONTRACTING ON SEVERAL FRONTS

Clear contracting is important in individual coaching. In team coaching managing boundaries through clear contracting is core to the on-going team coaching process. 

At the outset there is the need to contract, formally, with the commissioning client, most often the Team Leader. They usually have a clear picture of the felt need. In my experience this is often the symptom of a bigger need. There is also the need to contract – albeit less formally - with every individual team member, particularly around confidentiality. Unless individuals trust me not to feed back to the boss, that severely limits what the coaching is able to achieve. 

7. CREATING A CLIMATE OF GREATER OPENNESS

The coach has to demonstrate this, as well as facilitate it in others, to start with, but if trust is built right from the start, the ‘mature’ others, usually, quickly pick up on the lead in contributing as more open and ready team members pick up and start to build. 

In my experience, people feel the benefits it yields of more real and open conversations. For example the fact that everyone holds valuable information and perspectives that has a useful contribution to make to the way forward. Some hold information from the ‘front line’ with feed back and real perspectives from end users. These are often the source of fresh insights and innovative thinking. This kind of front line input is the lifeblood of keeping a strategy a living item under continuous review and enhancing abilities to respond more quickly

8. BRINGING IN EXTERNAL STAKEHOLDER PERSPECTIVES

Senior teams get caught up in being over-focused on day to day tasks and firefighting and internal matters. It’s very easy to become distant from end users and the eternal realities that services and products need to work with. 

9. BRINGING IN THE BIG UNSPOKEN ISSUES AND HIDDEN AGENDAS

In my experience it’s very typical for there to be areas in Leadership teams that never quite get on to the agenda for attention, let alone discussion.

These ‘unspoken’ issues are usually at the heart of team coaching. They are in the “too difficult” pending tray due to the different hidden agendas of individuals.

There are different “flavours” of the unspoken.  Some examples I have experienced are:

  • Issues where there is unresolved conflict. Nobody wants to offend and risk making it worse. The result is that people diplomatically avoid the subject and the tension lurks beneath the surface
  • Issues that are complex that carry a high degree of risk and uncertainty–they are in the “too difficult” box and people do not want to risk failure
  • Fear of losing power or control leads to people being cautious and holding back – “I do not want to upset the apple cart”. It means retaining a sense of control.
  • People in the team that are perceived as “difficult”. This may be personal style and / or they may be raising or representing difficult issues that others are avoiding. At worst that individual may become the scapegoat. Particularly if they have a strong style that can be used as a deflector “XX is so assertive/aggressive...”, by deflecting attention away from the issue they want to avoid.

10. INTEGRATING PERSONAL FEEDBACK AS PART OF THE INDIVIDUAL AND COLLECTIVE LEARNING PROCESS. 

I do this in a number of ways. In team sessions I offer selective observations, particularly on things I see happening – either behaviours I see or process issues. E.g. “I’m noticing a fall off in energy around this issue”

I also introduce feedback processes as part of our way of working. For example asking at the end of a session what people have found of greatest value and what they would want more / less of / differently at our next meeting.  In this I am seeking to introduce them ton approaches they can continue to use as part of their normal way of working, ensuring they are extracting explicitly key learning points from their team exchanges.

Finally I introduce personal feedback between team members to encourage greater openness and building of rapport and comfort around this deeper level of collective learning

11. DESIGNING IN SUSTAINABILITY WITH TEAM COACHING INTERVENTIONS

I define sustainability as demonstrating and working with approaches and ways of managing themselves that will enable the team to better manage their working processes and relationships going forwards, that will enhance their effectiveness as a working team.

I believe it is important to develop team members’ capabilities to take these ways of working down into their teams and staff

12. THE ESSENTIAL VALUE OF AN EXTERNAL PROFESSIONAL SOUNDING BOARD / ( SUPERVISION ) IN TEAM COACHING

Finally in a very demanding and complex area of work as team coaching I find it essential to have a number of sources of coaching supervision:

  • Self-supervision – writing this piece has stimulated higher levels of awareness and reflection than might otherwise have taken place. It’s a rich learning process in its own right.
  • Supervisory conversations with my formal peer supervisor(s) and trusted colleagues.

4. Some Cases that bring Team Coaching to life, for me

I outline briefly here the sorts of cases that, for me, help to show how these principles can apply – in different ways, and to different extents. Team coaching is more complex and ‘messy’ than the text books would have us believe! The examples I share are intended as ‘snapshots’ to illustrate the diversity of needs that team coaching can involve.

CASE 1:  THE TEAM THAT WAS HAVING ISSUES IN ENGAGING WITH THE WIDER ORGANISATIONAL TEAM AND EXTERNAL STAKEHOLDERS.

A series of customer service errors had received much negative publicity for this organisation. A formal review and report had come out with a key recommendation being to develop more collaborative ways of working across the technical expertise and functional silos.  My brief was to work with the SMT on this overall objective. 

As I had individual conversations with team members and observed their quarterly SMT Review Meeting it became clear that there was  a strong focus on immediate task focus  with absence of attention to external parties and absence of real intelligence from customer and users.

The challenge became more one of working with the senior team on :

  • considering the impact of decisions and actions in their area on other areas as well as what they needed from other
  • developing more external focus, developing closer relationships with key external stakeholders
  • how they shared information and market intelligence  with each other,
  • holding a longer term perspective on the whole business that each SMT member felt able to take on board and pass on to their area
  • how they were going to engage their managers

It took some time, and process, inside the senior team to get a constructive, collective focus on these more external facing opportunities, as well as build a more open dialogue process to bring in the diversity of perspectives required for better quality thinking and decisions compared to the typical more internal short term task focus in their meetings.

Energy in the team coaching on an Away Day was focused on exposing the team to hearing first hand end users experiences, and hearing from leaders facing similar issues in completely differently sectors. The stimulus from this was then brought in to their team idea generation. This opened up discussions on how they could practically adjust day to day ways of working to bring in greater end user focus and responsiveness to external stakeholders. There was a generation of fresh thinking and approaches. The idea was also to generate excitement, motivation, even to have an enjoyable experience and to stimulate change the largely internally focused agenda at SMT meetings

Part of the coaching also involved working with senior team members on getting their own separate teams engaged through review of day to day ways of working and involving them   to generate the thinking about improvements.

CASE 2.  THE TEAM DEALING WITH CHALLENGES OF PHYSICAL DISTANCE, AND UNFAMILIARITY WITH EACH OTHER’S ROLES.

This group was called together to form a Project Team, and their outcomes would have important contributions to make to the strategic opportunities the organisation was facing. This was a very large and complex internationally spread organisation. 

The members of the group had considerable challenges in becoming a team! Their current everyday management roles were very demanding and they were geographically dispersed.

Practical ways of slowly building the attitudes and skills needed to work as a highly integrated team took time, and a lot of learning about each other, let alone the task given to them.
I had individual coaching sessions with them as well as 4 team sessions over the course of a year.

I used Tuckman  (forming, storming, norming, performing) Myers Briggs (MBTI) and the Belbin framework to raise awareness of the typical stages teams go through and used the Belbin and MBTI instruments to raise awareness of different styles in the team and got them thinking about how they could make best use of them in how they worked. This accelerated their abilities and bring greater focus on process and relationship aspects of managing their internal client.

As they developed their cohesion and the project got well underway my role evolved to observing and asking occasional questions, encouraging them to review their way of working, both within the team and with their internal client, and provide feedback to each other. By the end of the year they were truly self managing.

The project helped what was a highly structured and hierarchical organisation learn and build confidence in the idea of building project teams to drive and pilot innovation. This became a major strategic benefit, in itself, apart from what the team eventually achieved. 

One of the team members (on the basis of the personal credibility they achieved) was invited to continue on a part time basis to extend the project into exploring how it could be more embedded into an on-going change organisation-wide initiative

CASE 3. A TEAM OF COACHES – LAYING OUT STANDARDS FOR EXECUTIVE TEAM COACHING FOR A PROFESSIONAL ACCREDITATION BODY.

There is nothing quite like working with a group of experts on a subject! I was a team member, rather than holding a separate role from others. However, of course, as team coaching experts we were all facilitating the team!

Again, the biggest challenge involved was about the range of practice models involved in each team member’s highly successful team coaching practice. Integrating these approaches, as well as integrating any standards framework to encompass others approaches not directly involved became one of the longest, and most informative projects about team coaching I have enjoyed.


5.  Conclusions and next steps

This has been a powerful exercise for me in reviewing all the files of experience I hold about my team coaching practice.

A major area that stands out for me from this review is just how much the Team Coach’s role is concerned with drawing out and normalising the “unspoken” issues and tensions around them. Helping the team navigate and discover ways to manage the more difficult conversations and identify and realise the true opportunities they have.

It has also made me aware of just how much more there is to some of these projects than could be explained, simply. I could write a book about each of these cases; and even then I suspect there would still be so much left unsaid about what and why the team coaching worked as well as it did.

In doing this overview it has raised my level of interest in exploring some of these themes in more depth. I’d be really interested to hear about others approaches and their key learning points about the multi-faceted and challenging area of team coaching.

To connect with Sue Young


References:
[1] Clutterbuck D (2007) Coaching the Team at Work, Nicholas Brearley, London
[2] Kets de Vries, M F R Leadership group coaching in action: The Zen of creating high performance teams, Academy of Management
[3] Hawkins P (2014) Leadership Team Coaching; Developing Collective Transforrnational Leadershipn (2nd ed.) Kogan Page
 

My journey from operating as a Consultant who also occasionally, bolted on coaching, to appreciating more fully what Coaching can bring by Gamiel Yafai

At the start of this year one of my goals was to complete an Executive Coaching qualification mainly to rubber stamp my many years experience, and as a backup for tenders and other business requirements, not really appreciating just what a difference it would make. 


1. Bolting on Coaching to Consulting had already started to make important differences and adding value

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I have been coaching for many years formally and informally and through feedback I had always considered myself to be a good coach who listened, inspired, facilitated and believed that my coachees would leave my sessions being able to be their better selves as a result of my interventions. 

Feedback came from coachees 

  • who had gained promotion after many years in the same role, 
  • coachees who had challenged bullies and succeeded, 
  • coachees who changed careers because their values were misaligned to the sector they     worked in, 
  • coachees who have made complete life changes so that they could be their authentic selves,
  • and from coachees who had influenced policy and organisational change. Something to be proud of!

2. Finding the vehicle to move further into my approach to Coaching

In March, I found a course that I liked and joined another five inquisitive people on an incredible journey. 

I call it a ‘course‘ – but I have realised I was looking for something that was quite different from the ‘directive‘ approach to learning that training courses typically adopt. This is especially important in understanding Coaching after all!

On reflection, the things I realised I liked were quite particular. 

  • The clear link between Coaching and creating more inclusive leaders. 
  • That Coaching can appear simple and yet complex at the same time.
  • That self-reflection is so important to the learning.
  • That the answers are always within the coachee.

3. Making the most of this ‘ course ‘ experience

I discovered that coaching was so much more than I had thought!

Well, it’s incredible how much you can learn about yourself, when you give yourself time to be you, time to reflect and time to explore your ‘present self’. 

Being on the course was an eye opener, I attended the six days, which were run over a three month period, allowing a great deal of reflection time in between sessions. 

It gave me the opportunity to expand my knowledge, grow and apply my learning with people who were on a similar journey.

It helped me realise:

  • How Coaching helps me achieve my purpose of ‘helping organisations implement change through maximising on the potential of their people’
  • Just how important listening is and I have become so much more conscious of how much I listen and keep reminding myself of ‘you were born with one mouth and two ears for a reason’.
  • That one of my main values, that of ‘sharing’ needs to be considered.

4. Coaching and Consulting compared

Through the experiential learning gained on the course, 

  • I discovered so much about how my consulting background had influenced my style of coaching and  I realised that my consulting background lead me to do a lot more telling than I had realised and a lot less asking, guiding and or nurturing.
  • How much more effective my coaching would be with small tweaks here and there.
  • I realised that much of this was unconscious and that if I was to become a better coach I would need to spend more time asking and less time telling which appeared to be my ‘default’.
  • I would need to pay more attention to coachees and spend less time thinking about how my knowledge and experiences can influence change and focus on how my coachees could uncover much more of their own solutions, which could provide them with much better outcomes, opportunities to learn more about themselves and how their own attitudes, bias and behaviours would impact on the outcomes of their challenges and opportunities.  
  • This meant being 100% present in my sessions to enable the coachee to get more from the session.
  • Over the three months I learnt a great deal from the tutor, my colleagues who allowed me to experiment on them and from the reflection time that I rarely afford myself.

I am now looking forward to being a better ‘good coach’!
 

To connect with Gamiel Yafai

Gamiel Yafai

Gamiel Yafai is an executive coach and facilitator who specialises in Diversity, Inclusion and inclusive leadership. Gamiel developed his Leadership skills in the publishing and advertising industries with over 20 years’ experience at Publisher and Director level.  

Gamiel left the world of advertising, to follow his passion to support others, particularly those that are disadvantaged by society. Gamiel set up Diversity Marketplace in 2005 to help executives and organisations implement change to support inclusion. Gamiel has refined his consulting skills to become a passionate coach and to help people become their true selves.

Email: gamiel.yafai@diversitymarketplace.co.uk
Website: www.diversitymarketplace.co.uk
 

Time for a paradigm shift in coaching – my call for a turn towards autoethnography by Margaret Chapman-Clarke (Guest Author)

It is 7.15 pm. on a Monday evening. I am sitting overlooking Scarborough’s North Bay. There are four mature gentlemen in evening dress, complete with bow ties posing for a photograph with the castle ruins and the sea as the background. I don’t see that often in this part of town. Most people dress in shorts, t-shirts and flip flops, with children carrying buckets and spades. It is sunny. The sea is calm. I have been reflecting on what I might write to succinctly capture the peaks and troughs of coaching (past, present and emerging future).

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So I start with my story, looking back at my key contributions to the field and the journey that led to my ‘discovering’ autoethnography.

I am living between two ‘centres’. This one, Scarborough, is what I call ‘centre two.’ It is where I am at my most creative. Centre one, is York. This is where I get embroiled in ‘the stuff of everyday life’ and my professional work as a psychologist. Both centres allow me to do what is most important to me and my practice – I research, write, speak, design and lead mindfulness and compassion seminars and coach. 

Scarborough is also the place for storing my papers and back copies of journals, and where, it seems my story is located. Here I have books and files from those early days of coaching and its rise as a phenomenon. 

I have a quick look through my papers and I am surprised at how extensive it is.  2004 stands out as a particularly significant year, so that’s where I will begin

My key highlights from 2004

  1. It is the year that I and fifteen psychologist peers proposed the establishment of the Special Group in Coaching Psychology within the British Psychological Society.
  2. It is the year in which I designed the UK’s first Psychology of Coaching programme for the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).
  3. It is the year the CIPD drew together a number of experts in the field, who helped publish the first Buyer’s Guide to Coaching and Coaching Services. The desire of these early ‘movers and shakers’ was to produce response to challenge what was perceived as the ‘wild west of coaching’. 
  4. The newly emerging coaching bodies were forming and making tentative steps towards collaboration, also with the intention of wanting to do something about the ‘cowboys.’  
  5. The CIPD launched a new professional magazine Coaching at Work and I joined the editorial board.
  6. Meanwhile, a number of key players who had been proponents of mentoring for two decades were asking what was new about coaching, and therapists described coaching as the ‘new kid on the block’.
  7. I was calling for an evidence-informed approach in a BPS journal, the Selection and Development Review. 
  8. I spoke in Sydney Australia, as the only British speaker at the first international conference on evidence-based coaching sharing my work in emotional intelligence and team coaching.

The coach is dead: long live, the accredited coach!

As I look at these key highlights from 2004, I wonder what really is new!

I am reminded of a key text by the American psychologist Tim Hall, who wrote in 1996, that the ‘career is dead, long live the career.’ He was commenting on the media hype that was heralding the death of the traditional, hierarchical career; which, from my research at the time, if it is dead now, it was very much alive and well in the minds of the Building Society managers I interviewed. However, a critical aspect of that study, I recall now, and which still remains the driving force behind my work are the managers who said respectively that ‘all development needs support’ and ‘everyone needs someone to help them to develop at work’.

Back then, my recommendation was, to quote the title of a book by, one of those early movers and shakers, the late Eric Parsloe “everyone needs a mentor”.  Now it is as if ‘everyone needs a coach’ provided it is an ‘accredited coach.’ There was no need for the Berkeley Consulting Group to worry; coaching has not been assigned to the executive fad graveyard!

Coaching has been saved from the ‘executive fad graveyard’ [1]

It’s 2017. We have come a long way since Stratford Sherman and Alyssa Freas wrote their piece for Harvard Business Review entitled the “Wild West of Coaching”[2] ! Professional bodies are now global and set their own standards for membership. They collaborate. The Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) are at the forefront of accrediting, what Tony Grant calls the third generation of workplace coaches, managers who coach.  

Such is the foothold of coaching today, that in a blog entry for People Management on 25th July 2017, Jane Simms presents this skill as a given:

Jonny Gifford, the senior adviser for organizational behaviour at the CIPD, asserts that: “…we need to see a similar shift in attitude towards conflict resolution as we did to coaching a decade ago. “Mediation-type skills need to be a core part of what it takes to be a good line manager, just as coaching skills now are.” [3]

A maturing field, at what cost?

So how did we get here and what have been the costs and benefits? 

In the March 2017 issue of Coaching at Work, I was asked what I had observed since those heady days of the ‘wild west’ and the time when everyone called themselves a coach (usually after a weekend course!).  I noted how the field had matured, and it was now at a stage, where like so many emerging professions, it was looking to gain credibility; seeking standardisation and a need for potential members to demonstrate evidence against competences. 

Yet in this drive for standardization and these calls for mastery we are at the risk of being reductionist. We are at risk of closing down innovation and creativity. 

I noted a word of caution.

These competency frameworks are fast taking on a life of their own and in our desire to be seen as a legitimate profession, rather than an area of practice, we risk losing something really quite precious if we do not get back to recognising what is the essence of coaching. Which is, providing a special, dedicated space where two people engage in a dialogue.

This is often, certainly in my work, an existential meeting where these individuals connect, each bringing their own story, one helping another to create a new story with which to navigate their world.


Autoethnography: An antidote in a post-truth age

A decade on from when I started sharing my story, I continued with my practitioner-based research, looking for that elusive evidence-informed approach that captures the essence of coaching. I discovered autoethnography.

In 2015, I called for peers to turn towards autoethnography[4]. This is an approach which calls for an inclusion of the self and our experiences in practicing and writing about coaching. This means making explicit what underpins your, my and our worldviews as coaches and making transparent the how of what we do, not hiding behind techniques or calls for mastery. It is to know ourselves first, or as Jackee Holder put it in her keynote at this year’s Coaching at Work conference; “to know our story”.  

Autoethnography speaks to the current zeitgeist in which members of the good coach community are at the forefront; this is the move towards narrative and creative approaches in coaching. It is illustrative of a broader trend, which is about healing the split between our cognitive and embodied ways of knowing and being, a split which Richard Strozzi-Heckler suggests has for too long plagued coaching. [5]

Critical Reflexivity, Humanising Practice

Writing that speaks to an ‘autoethnographic turn’ in coaching requires that we make explicit what informs our practitioner and authorial voice; our story. This means being critically self-reflexive, what in autoethnographic work is descried as ‘being vulnerable with a purpose’ [6]. In an age of post-truth, relative truth and even ‘downright mad opinion’ we need to get back to what it means to be engaged in a conversation with another human being, who is struggling, as we too struggle.

The narratives such as those that appear in this book; the two previous texts and those that appear regularly on the good coach blog ‘tell it like it is.’ They are autoethnographies, stories that are lived and are told with integrity, passion and a genuine desire to reveal experiences of what it is to be a coach, and to be coached. To quote one of my clients it is “a magical space” and what another speaks, metaphorically, of a place to “tune her violin”.

No two autoethnographies are the same. In the same way that each of our client’s stories are not the same. My ‘take’ on autoethnography, is shaped by my research exploring coaches’ experiences of mindfulness training through poetry. It is an ‘integrative, mindful and transpersonal’ approach that puts the human back into our scholarship and practice in coaching. 


Why I call for ‘autoethnographic writing’ 

At a recent conference, Emeritus Professor of Coaching and Mentoring Bob Garvey asserted that it was still psychology that dominated the field. Psychology sadly all too often seeks to reduce human experience to variables that can be manipulated and measured, and however approximate, statistical significance assures us that we can hold a degree of certainty at what we are looking at provides us with ‘proof’ that it works. It is however approximate. Again, I urge a note of caution, as the sociologist Nikolas Rose reminds us, “psychologists are the unacknowledged legislators of mankind ”[7] – so let’s hold these psychological theories, models and tools with a light touch!

Unlike the positivist science that drives psychology, in autoethnographic work ‘our secrets are disclosed and histories made known.’ At the start of this piece I shared with you my experience in the present moment; this gives you a glimpse of my story. And in the spirit of ‘being vulnerable with a purpose’ my hope is that through my words I connect with what is both specific and at the same time universal. This is beautifully captured in one of the ‘vox-participare’ (participant-voiced) poems from my mindfulness-in-coaching research. It is written by Lesley. She is an executive coach aged sixty-eight, who has survived and lives with a particularly virulent form of cancer [8]. 

THE YIN AND YANG OF LIFE

So much loss of hope for a full, energetic vibrant post-work phase countered by so much generation of hope for nourishing health, joy, humour and laughter. The hope for life never wanes. I am loving every second of every change within every day. There is still only one real dread – that of over forty years, to lose the life of my children, of our children and now them for theirs. All else is face-able, however unwanted.

What will it be like for those I love when my physical presence is no longer? Tears may shed but their lives will go on so well without my presence, my touchability. How will I be recalled to mind? What will trigger that recollection? What further thoughts and feelings will be nourished by that interaction of memory of me? I can never know, cannot control or shape that – their memory and its attachments will be theirs – all theirs and so unique – and I will never know. But I do know I will be loved, am loved now and what more can I hope to live with?

Knowing… can be so fleeting, here one moment so strongly and then fade, be lost, gone. Does it return in a different way on another day? It is my own – where does it come from? I feel no God, see no God and hear no God; I know I am alone within my life and how I make it. What makes me make it the way it is? I have no answers but love the questions. I sit here, holding my pen, eyes half closed listening to my life breathe gently. How can I break these moments of still, peaceful wonderment to share who and how I am? 

When Lesley revisited this poem she talked of how important it is to embrace vulnerability, before our strengths can be regained and nourished. As Art Bochner writes, this is the power of autoethnography writing which is, like coaching, an existential calling.

To connect with Margaret Chapman-Clarke

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Margaret Chapman-Clarke, CPsychol, AFBPsS, CSci is a consulting work psychologist, mindfulness facilitator, researcher, writer and gestalt practitioner, whose raison d’être is to call for a turn towards autoethnography. An approach she describes as: ‘‘integrative, mindful and transpersonal that puts the human back into our scholarship and practice in coaching.’  She has been described as a ‘true pioneer’ in coaching and mindfulness in the workplace.  She has worked with the All Party Parliamentary Group on Mindfulness; spoken nationally and internationally on emotional intelligence, positive psychology, resilience and mindfulness and compassion at work and published the first evidence-based text on mindfulness and wellbeing (Kogan Page, 2016). Margaret has a particular interest in reflexive, creative and expressive writing in coaching and for wellbeing. She divides her time (by accident) between ‘two centres’ York and Scarborough. The latter is where she enjoys a beautiful view of the sea and where, as an ex-member of H.M. Services, she supports the work of a local military veterans’ charity, the First Light Trust. 

Email: mc@eicoaching.co.uk
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/margaret-chapman-clarke

References
[1]  http://www.berkeleyconsulting.com/Leadership/Saving%20Executive%20Coaching%20from%20the%20Exec%20Graveyard.pdf
[2]  https://hbr.org/2004/11/the-wild-west-of-executive-coaching
[3]  http://www2.cipd.co.uk/pm/peoplemanagement/b/weblog/archive/2017/07/25/there-s-more-than-one-way-to-solve-a-dispute.aspx
[4] Coaching for Compassionate Resilience Through Creative Methods in Hall, L. (2015) Coaching in Times of Crisis and Transformation
[5] The Art of Somatic Coaching: Embodying Skilful Action, Wisdom and Compassion
[6] Rose, N. (1999) Governing the Soul: Shaping of the Private Self
[7] Discovering Autoethnography as a research genre, methodology and method: The Yin and Yang of Life, the Transpersonal Psychology Review, 18 (2),
[8] http://shop.bps.org.uk/publications/transpersonal-psychology-review-vol-18-no-2-autumn-2016.html