My observation is that motivation in coaching is a much explored field, as long as it refers to the coachee's work on motivation - a little less so on the coach's side.
Having recently read Jeremy Ridge's thought provoking contribution on Attention in Coaching, I realised how fundamental is the role of motivation in securing quality attention, and I would like to share more thoughts on this matter here.
What is motivation and why does it matter?
A simple definition of motivation (Merriam-Webster's Learner Dictionary) points at 3 dimensions:
- The act or process (giving someone a reason for doing something)
- A condition (being eager to act or work)
- A force or influence that causes someone to do something.
Coaching requires an excellent quality of attention. Building on this as an entry point, I think that giving excellent attention requires an intense motivation on the coach's side. What it takes for the coach is to go out there and sit in front of unknown individuals and/or teams, consciously open up and dedicate them an absolute, full, pure, and supportive attention, then sustain that attention through a massive amount of signals waiting to be picked, deciphered and probed against their specific context so that the clients can dramatically enhance their thinking. Furthermore, and at the same time, keeping attention to the coaching process so the clients translate their insights into tangible and sustainable change.
I believe that just as in other performance arts or in sports at a high level, this quality of attention only can happen when it is supported by an intense driving force: a profound desire, a genuine and compelling reason for being in this space. It actually makes me thing of the Ikigai, a Japanese concept meaning ‘a reason for being, or a reason to wake up each day’.
Why (self) motivation is important to me
Motivation has been quite defining in my own journey to become an Executive Coach.
Even after I had been coaching individuals and teams for a long time in my executive career, it still took me some time to become conscious of it, and allow myself to be a coach in my own mind. I remember when I finally gave myself that permission. What happened literally overnight was the immediate shift in the degree and quality of attention that I was able to dedicate to my coachees. It was measured both by the coachees' sudden impressive feedback, and by my inner experience of feeling deeply, perfectly present and in the moment - for the first time in years.
At that time I reflected on this as I was curious to understand what had enabled this change. I realised that by letting go of those self-limiting thoughts that were holding me back from fully embracing my role as a coach, it had freed up that space where I could simply be focused on the why I was coaching: I was just utterly willing my coachees to flourish and create a better future for themselves, and I was deeply enjoying seeing them doing so.
That was my Ikigai, the one important thing that truly did matter to me; my reason to sit in front of these people and to dedicate them this quality of attention. Ever since then I have been going from surprise to surprise, finding out that I could make that level of presence, continuously progress over the years, and that the more it was progressing the more it was regenerating me and further fuelling my motivation.
How does it happen, and what does it change?
As I observe my relationship to my Ikigai, I can see that it plays at different levels:
- In general: I notice that being mindful of my motivation is clearly enlightening my days and supporting my overall morale. I feel privileged, because I am doing what is important to me in my life.
- Before starting a coaching relationship with a new individual or team: When approaching a chemistry conversation or the exploration phase in view of a team coaching, I can feel a flow of positive energy invading me and opening all my sensors as I think of the prize: cracking that code. Making it happen. The magic of turning up in front of complete strangers without any prejudice, and building together that incredible amount of trust that will enable the creation of an environment in which they'll be able to explore and find the ways to change their future, no less.
- During the coaching conversation and as the coaching process unfolds: from what I observed, part of what I use is a set of strengths I have been using for a long time, including in my previous career. These listening and attention skills, multi-lateral thinking, patience, creativity, tenacity, are all ignited and powered by the same engine: a strong drive. I am relaxed as my motivation is what will underpin the quality of the attention my clients deserve, and therefore I am able to pick the right approaches to best support them as they go along with their coaching journey.
Being conscious of my motivation changes the level, quality and sustainability of attention; it creates a space where I am both entirely focused, very confident, and real-time monitoring both my clients and my own levels of energy, attunement and engagement.
What are the possible dilemmas/questions for supervision - and even self-supervision?
From my observations and what I could explore in supervision, I see at least three potential dilemmas or risk areas:
1. Paying attention to our own motivation as a coach is, I believe, an essential part of the awareness required to understand our own practice. Obviously though, this self-awareness should not end up competing for or with the coach's quality of attention given to the coachee. Rather, I think it needs to be used as part of the awareness of the overall coaching interaction, noticing how much it serves and nurtures the process, and mitigating the risk of the coach bringing their biases into the process.
- For example, if part of the motivation is the reward to see the client achieve positive changes, how will the right distance be maintained with that motivation so that it doesn't influence the process towards looking for immediately visible outcomes, instead of leaving a more ample amount of time for the insights to percolate?
- Another example which I believe would largely apply: is the coach's fundamental motivation about willing to be helpful or instead being useful? And what does it change in the nature of the resulting attention (is for instance the focus on needs or on expectations...)? How can it impact the process?
2. Other situations potentially testing the coach's relationship to their own motivation. For instance, when working with clients who change their objectives as the process unfolds. Such adjustments or changes can make perfect sense: function of the evolution of the client's context, of the occurrence of major events or major insights. There might be cases though where changing objectives might be an escape or avoidance strategy.
This poses the question of how to strike the right balance between respecting the client's autonomy versus keeping them accountable for their initial objectives. Of course this is yet another reminder of the importance of the clarity of the mandate and the contracting work done upstream. Yet I find it an interesting area for the coach to pause and reflect on what might be the influence of their own motivation in the review of the situation.
3 … and what if motivation drops? I feel fortunate that I haven’t experienced this feeling, but I accept the idea that this situation can happen. For me, that would be the signal that the situation needs to be confronted and explored immediately and with honesty. I see such a link between the coach's motivation and his/her ability to be present and authentic, that I doubt the expected professional standards in coaching can be met if the coach's motivation isn't there. The implication being that, in case the motivation couldn't be restored, I would consider legitimate and in the interests of the client to end the coaching relationship.
Implications with Continued Professional Development
In light of the above, I consider that observing and noticing my motivation and what fuels it is a vital gauge in my practice. By doing so, I have so far come to the conclusion that my motivation is at the same time being nurtured by as well as nurturing the learning journey we share with my clients.
That learning and the associated wonder comes from both because of:
- The discovery journey about the person as well as their environment
- The development journey and the resulting enhanced future
- The increase in awareness, through feedback and the growing of own learning & attention capabilities
As I am more and more aware of the importance of being conscious of my motivation, the result is:
- I exercise myself regularly to noticing my levels of motivation, both in general and in the moment, when I coach, in a sort of a real-time self-supervision process
- I regularly reflect on related clients’ situations, and bring to external supervision those for which I would wonder if my judgement could be affected
- I use more and more my relationship to my motivation to prepare my conversations, and to be in the right mind set.
And what about you?
- What is your “Ikigai”?
- How often do you revisit it?
- What do you observe about it, that informs/influences your practice?
- How do you nurture it?
- What is your Ikigai? How to live to be 100+, Dan Buettner, TED Talk
- “Attention!”: what really makes coaching work … or not! By Jeremy RidgeFebruary 19, 2016, http://the-goodcoach.com/tgcblog/2016/2/19/attention-what-really-makes-coaching-work-or-not-by-jeremy-ridge#sthash.kMIE3Dat.dpuf
How to connect with Laurent
Laurent Terseur is a former senior executive with a genuine care for people and over two decades senior experience in multi-cultural, highly competitive corporate environments, first as a group treasurer in pharmaceuticals and manufacturing, then in sales and leadership roles in the corporate and investment banking divisions of Deutsche Bank, JP Morgan and Barclays.
Laurent is an APECS Accredited Executive Coach and an ICF Professional Certified Coach. He coaches individuals and teams, English as well as French native speakers. His practice integrates insights from cognitive neurosciences and systemic coaching, and is informed by his track record in building highly collaborative and effective teams, his business acumen, and his multi-faceted understanding of matrix organisations.
He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org