‘’the good coach” 吸引了其他志同道合的導師（無論全職/兼職/隨意），他們期望得益於超越目前的市場狀態。我們參加了小組討論。我們與同行，博客和tgc讀者聯繫，Read More
My coaching practice has evolved over time to focus on working directly with coaching practitioners:
Who are engaged in continually building and developing their own personal knowledge base that’s integral to their business practice by understanding what it is they’re delivering to their clients (with a level of certainty), and
Who are interested in contributing their personal knowledge to a growing body of practitioner knowledge in the field of coaching for their communities, and society, more generally.
My assumptions and outline of an approach
To make sense of what I do and how it’s evolved, I have developed my understanding by inverting the best practices used to report on research (commonly used across all disciplines) which can be described as follows,
Making sense of the outcomes from my practice (the impact), which
Draws upon my own experiences as a practitioner (the results/data), and
Checking out my experiences, and influences, with others (literature &/peer review), that leads to
Understanding how I’ve gone about doing what I do (the methodology), to then
Make adjustments/refinements within my practice and see whether the outcomes are aligned with those changes, and then the cycle begins again.
I’m still in the early stages of this process because there are insufficient, as well as inadequate, frameworks readily available in our field (compared to other established disciplines and professions). Any information that is currently available rests on very narrowly defined boundaries and conditions, which has been extrapolated beyond its useful limits as a form of explanation that could then work across a multitude of contexts and scenarios. In my opinion, there is still so much to learn, experience and understand. And as a field, we’re still developing a language, let alone an agreed one with definitions, that gets to a level of understanding and detail of what’s really happening that consistently delivers robust results.
Importantly, it’s the practitioner who has continuously found ways to deliver their approach to coaching to their market (which even academics/researchers have difficulties accessing), and have a business that’s ultimately being validated by the market by its longevity. They are the real researchers, and my practice revolves around understanding how they realize their practice by helping them share their experiences, their patterns of behaviours, and their approaches in their natural language. The impact of my approach can be seen by both the quantity, and quality (see criteria), of blog-articles published on the good coach (a repository) that respects individual differences (diversity) in such an inclusive field.
For me, this is what practitioner research is, and should represent. Eventually these reports (blog-articles shared from practitioner experiences) can then help inform and build consensus towards best-practice (standards), even principles (ethics), which has been proven to work across a multitude of situations and contexts (profession) and better supports practitioners professionally. This is the desired future … meanwhile, let me share how I want to contribute to this.
Making sense of how I have been shaping my practice
Without a familiar and recognisable structure, it can be challenging to see what my practice is, especially when it is generally interpreted to mean how I practice my business rather than how I practice coaching. Both are important because they are strongly linked; they represent the necessary cycles of understanding between the market opportunities for the service provided (the impact) and the robustness of the service delivered (the how) that can then lead to further market opportunities.
How I shape my practice, the way I’m using it here, can currently be described as working at two levels. At one level (external), it’s more around how observers see what it is I am doing which has some recognisable outlines that forms a shape that makes sense to them. The other level (internal) is more personal because it is how I access data, process it, and then make decisions i.e. cognitive patterns which shape my actions. And what I have learnt so far is how my coaching is being shaped through the decisions I made as part of my business practice (that included many peer conversations) which is beginning to be recognised by others.
What I share next are my top three drivers that have consistently been shaping my practice,
A conscious choice was made early on in my practice to choose to work with clients with whom I could deliver my best services to and not to be a one-size fits all type of practitioner. I realised quickly on, at the beginning of my practice which I call the testing phase, that I work better with independent, mature healthy individuals who are already mapping out their journey to live a more successful and fulfilling life, however they choose to define and measure it. I also understood my limitations, and wouldn’t be able to work with everyone on anything because it wouldn’t be fulfilling or making the best use of my strengths.
I have a personal preference to continue my learning whilst working with clients, which helps me to continuously engage in my research enquiry around the field for coaching. And my clients have also decided for themselves how my coaching approach will help them to support them in the myriad ways they go about creating their future. This may never be fully articulated, more an implicit awareness and understanding, yet quality partnerships are being developed in which all parties involved are receiving value from realising this potential in different ways with growing confidence and clarity.
My practice has also been driven around my curiosity for understanding how the standards purported in coaching haven’t evolved or developed since the inception of self-appointed bodies and their related training schools. There is a real gap between what I understood to be a professional used in other functional disciplines like engineering, law, medicine, compared to how it’s currently being used in coaching.
• Being a professional invokes degrees of trustworthiness that any ‘registered practitioner’ will deliver best practices to their clients packaged in the wor¬¬ks contracted for ethically. They should regularly demonstrate, evidence and self-report to agreed standards and criteria in their accumulated working experience, periodic training and relevant academic education in order to maintain their recognised standing in society for the profession they represent.
• These standards and criteria have been extracted from the current body of knowledge from which other professions rely on and confidently refers to because it has been rigorously tested and proven in various scenarios and contexts to reliably provide consistent results.
In coaching it seems that ‘being a professional’ refers more to the business models used to meet populist market trends because we lack a coherent and robust body of knowledge from which any practitioner’s practice can both build upon and contribute to that meets a fundamentally growing societal need in the market place.
Assessing the wider coaching market as part of my practice
My interest in the field and market, and how I choose to practice, has stemmed from one simple yet open-ended question, ‘What is coaching?’ It seemed natural that the first port of call to find answers to my questions was by attending institutions that were deemed to be reputable in delivering the requisite programmes, with the added bonus that after completing their program work would be available (once you have worked out your niche).
I attended a handful of institutions in different parts of the world in the hope of finding the answer; it was quite an initial investment that I thankfully recouped through alternative means. Over and over in my investigations, each of the coaching organisations (training schools, academic institutions, and conference providers) provided a general description of coaching that fitted the skills training model they were delivering. That model is fundamental to all the different stages of individual development in how to use it, and furthermore it can easily be adapted to various market opportunities because it operates at a level of generality.
A useful (and seemingly expensive) starting point to understand where the market is reported to being, is that coaching is the sum of your experiences of using proprietary coaching models!
More recently, in some of the latest publications for e.g. ‘The Sage Handbook of Coaching’ – the proposed ‘go-to academic resource’ - the editors shared some of their opinions in their Introduction of where they see the field heading,
“… the demand for coaching services may continue to be strong for a very long time to come, albeit perhaps with more individualistic, industrialised societies where traditional social structures are less evident. Whatever the case, the ability of practitioners to deliver valued services will rest upon the existence of a rich and texted knowledge base that can provide good and relevant guidance for practitioners.” (pg 4)
“... it should be noted that this book is nor primarily focused on advancing the professionalization of coaching. Rather its primary aim is to stimulate the development of the knowledge base for coaching, thereby making a contribution to further establishing coaching as an applied discipline. As such, this Handbook requires no unified definition of coaching, irrespective of how desirable that might be in principle [it provides readers (usually practitioners) with an early indication of the author’s view on the fundamental question: What is coaching?]” (pg 5)
“…the intention of this Handbook is to provide graduate students, scholars, and researchers with a premier point of contact with the current theoretical and empirical knowledge base [through the use of rigorous scientific methods] along with many of the established and emerging debates in the scholarly literature.” (pg 1)
“Despite the explicit academic orientation of this book (concerned with mapping the field and critiquing the knowledge base), many authors seemed to be naturally orientated towards addressing the needs of practitioners, through recommendations for practice, rather than stimulating the creation of knowledge through thoughtful analysis of the literature and recommendations for future research.” (pg 18)
“Until a reasonable way of conceptualising coaching is proposed, the onus will continue to fall to researchers to provide clear descriptions of the coaching intervention they study, in order for their findings to be comparable to others.” (pg 7)
The conclusions shared so far didn’t satisfy my curiosity; however they do provide a map of, a vision even, of where these experts see the field moving towards. Also, my list of questions kept growing and seemed to be outpacing the information that was being shared. The questions I’m currently holding is more focussed on how coaching is really being addressed in the market, for example,
I realised that I am better working with certain individuals at different stages of their learning and development than with everyone. Why isn’t this addressed in any of the training or published media? How does andragogy and stages of development fit in with coaching? How do you know when to pass clients onto other coaches who would be better suited working with them? How do coaches talk more confidently about what it is they are doing? How do you appreciate individual differences and learn to access the client’s world through their use of language to explain what it means in their everyday context?
Accepting my services is one of the many contributions that is part of the clients’ schema. Is there a bias/overconfidence in how significant the coach’s contribution has been to the client in reaching their solution? When is it appropriate to be using ROI? How are those contributions really being measured? How do coaches more accurately talk about their contributions? How much do coaches understand regarding their clients’ real intentions for coaching? How often are coaches recontracting? Does age matter? How do coaches talk about the quality of coaching they deliver as the sum total of all of their learnt experiences to date?
It’s my responsibility to create and sustain the conditions for building the trust and rapport at the level of the readiness of the client, the real contracting. How is this really being measured? How aware is the coach of their behaviours and reactions to what’s been shared and impacts on how the client responds? How do we assess the level of readiness of the client to participate in coaching? How reliable are chemistry meetings? How much should be disclosed as part of creating the conditions for engagement? How much working knowledge of the client’s context is important in getting access to them? What’s the real ‘power’ dynamics in any coaching conversation? How do you decipher and select the right phrases and words to unlock further meaning behind the client’s context? How do you make those connections that are most meaningful in their context that lets the client know that you’re listening?
The real knowledge, a term itself that needs to be debated in our field, should contribute to, and be, a two-way street to learning and development that inspires dialogue, critical thinking and meaningful action that impacts and influences an individual’s confidence, maturity and independence to practice coaching. Nevertheless, there are different developmental stages to learning and hence each of these organisations do fulfill a service for different segments of society.
Overall, it would seem that the key contributors have reached a plateau in terms of their real contributions to the field, and carving out where authority, or guidance, should lie in ensuring practitioners deliver good practice. For example, I have had to look elsewhere for answers and I completed a Masters in Social Anthropology to investigate coaching identity.
How my coaching practice is taking shape
I’ve developed and grown my specialism (or niche if you prefer) in, and around, coaching. The real knowledge lies with the real experts, the practitioners,
who are doing it day in day out (regardless of whether they call it coaching or not),
in their chosen practice to supports others, and themselves,
to be better at what it is they want to continue achieving even more confidently whether in their professional and/or personal lives.
It’s quite radical, and still a long way to go for it to be acknowledged as the norm, for individuals to request professional help that focuses on improving the quality of life - living to our potential both personally and professionally. In addition, having access to considered written material that is readily available to those who are interested or curious about what is coaching, is limited with the current politicking in our field.
My role as a coach is to help access those experiences (whether through conversations, writing or in combination) and help make them more readily available. Hence the nature and the shape of my practice, where my target audience (as the lingo goes) is mature practitioners of coaching, who can recognise the benefits of honestly reporting on their experiences and sharing their learning for both themselves and with other stakeholders including but not limited to other practitioners, peers, communities, the coaching field, curious individuals, and society itself.
Mutual benefits are being shared through this contract, and what I have learnt so far coaching coaches, or applying my coaching approach working with practitioners, include:
1. Understanding further the contexts and cognitive patterns of each practitioner.
Each of the practitioners I work with have their own unique styles and ways of operating in their practice, and it is important that I do not make assumptions of what it is they are saying, that may or may not match their actions or behaviour, without any clear reference points or facts. Otherwise, this results in inferring what’s being said rather than understanding what is actually being shared in their context.
That is why when I participate in any conversation, verbally or as part of the writing process, I feel fortunate to be a part of their learning process because they are sharing their cognitive patterns of how they make sense of what it is they are doing within their practice. My approach to coaching, in both cases, begins with,
Appreciating their level of readiness, and
Where they want to take the conversation/theme that supports them in their practice.
These are some of my indicators for what I perceive to be of maturity and independence exhibited within a coaching practitioner. They have decided what they want to focus on and carry through onto paper that explains in various detail, and breadth, their practice. And with every iteration of working with each practitioner, there is measured growth and development and this is observed in the number of ways each practitioner then uses their blog-articles as part of their business development.
2. Delivering my actions with care and consideration to build both respect and trust.
Once I begin to grasp their language and meaning making that they are sharing through their words and approach to structuring, I begin to hypothesise further their motivations and intention. What it is they are looking to share in their latest piece, and I begin to ask more succinct and hopefully poignant questions (whilst also sharing where I’ve come from to make such a question) that helps them to consider and clarify that what they have said is actually what it is they are wanting to share.
3. Appreciating different topics of interest, commitments and their motivation to find ways to continue their learning and development.
No one practice is the same because we are each working at different leading edges. Spending the time to talk and write about what is currently most important to them in their practice, and that they then continue to share in those pieces on a more regular basis informs me that this approach to coaching is working for them.
This is really an important part of, the ongoing contracting I have with them. Importantly, they are continuing to find novel ways to challenge themselves in how they want to talk about their experiences and share their learnings from their practice, and that I can continue to add value too. After all, coaching is a two-way street.
4. Learning from others - mapping out the diversity.
Having this opportunity to both work and learn from others has allowed me to continue my broader research topic of ‘what is coaching?’ I am just one practitioner amongst many, and I’m certain that I’ll never have the same exact experiences as others, but situations might occur where similarities may emerge and so we can learn from others.
I have also expanded on my own vocabulary. It also allows for a more collective voice to be shared, as evidenced in various publications, that begins to extend in detail and expand in scope a more inclusive and sophisticated mapping of diverse coaching practices.
As I shared and outlined at the start of my piece, I am still at the beginning of understanding what my coaching practice is really about. I am more comfortable and focussed in exploring, and comparing, in more detail the first three parts (impact, results, literature & peer review) in making sense of how my practice is forming its shape against other known parameters.
I’m continually dipping in and out of building, deepening and, even in many cases acknowledging, those awareness’s and learning how to talk about it more explicitly as part of my practice. Reflecting on where next,
I am still developing my explanations of what it is I am doing in my practice, and what I’ve shared here are really the outlines and key themes of my practice which can be expanded on, for sure, more considerably. I have written elsewhere some pieces on these themes as part of my learning and development, and only now starting to integrate those thoughts of how it influences my approach to practice.
I’d probably say that what I’ve shared is still quite general i.e. it doesn’t have that specificity that allows others to reproduce what it is that I’m doing in their own way. As I shared earlier, I currently have simple metrics that informs me that what I am doing currently works, and I feel that it is through collaboration with peers that I’ll be able to begin to become more explicit in what I’m doing.
I’ll still continue reading, and learning from others how their thoughts and explanations compare to my experiences. This is how I learn and adapt what has worked for others and bring it into my approach because it lends itself to my practice. Working with peers, whether in a team and/or as individuals, will continue to help me better articulate my methodology which in turns help me better serve my clients.
I appreciate that what I’ve shared will make sense to some, more than others, and for sure this is just one of the many ways to talk about the shape of our practice. I’ve covered some core principles and key learnings that mark the foundation of my practice, and how it’s perceived to be recognisable in a normal market place. Furthermore, I continue to enjoy recognising how my identity is intertwined with what I do in coaching, and how important it is to acknowledge those biases as part of my sharing (rather than leaving them out).
I’m curious, “How would you begin describing the shape of your practice?”
To connect with Yvonne Thackray
Bachkirova, T., Spence, G. and Drake, D. (2017) The SAGE Handbook of Coaching. 1 Edition. SAGE Publications Ltd. (https://us.sagepub.com/en-us/nam/the-sage-handbook-of-coaching/book245418#description )
What does it mean to work on the edge?
To work on the edge
I have to be fully present, take every detail into account and make quick, sharp decisions.
I feel fully alive and become acutely aware of what I am doing and saying, and
I have to interpret the meaning of what my client and other stakeholders are communicating to me in words, expressions, and tone.
When I visualize what I mean by edge work, I think of skiing in the Alps along a narrow pathway where I have to ensure I stay on track. Lots of skiers (of various levels of expertise) are around me, some racing past me, others following right behind almost touching my skis. The edge feels dangerously close, beyond which is a drop of thousands of feet. Not being a very good skier, this is both a frightening and exhilarating experience and this is how I often feel when working with my clients.
I do this edge work with CEO’s and senior executives usually over a one year period - a minimum amount of time for the benefits to be experienced. Some of my assignments last over 3 years. When I became aware, some 8-10 years ago, that this is the work I wanted to do, I began declining other assignments that did not challenge me to stay on my toes!
Coaching on the edge
I believe I do my best work when it is ‘on the edge’ as I feel alive, full of energy and I know the stakes are high. I would like to explore in future posts what this edge work entails for my practice, and describe how it can create value for both the client and multiple stake holders in the organization.
In this first case, I describe how I worked on the edge from the first face to face meeting. A detailed example that explores my approach to contracting, following a ‘chemistry’ session to on-board a senior business head (referred to in plural as they/their etc. to anonymise) who was joining the organisation. As part of their visit and orientation program, a meeting was arranged with me.
It all started with a delay
On arrival, I was asked to sit in a bare conference room to await this leader. After about 20 minutes an assistant came in and said, “I just heard that your meeting is going to start two hours later. I suppose it is best you wait here? I can bring you some coffee?” I wondered what the reason was for the delay, but unfortunately the assistant had no further information.
Whilst I was waiting I made two flip charts:  the first hundred days written down with the key focus areas and  the critical deliverables for success of a senior executive. It was part of my preparation of what I’d imagined, from other executives I had coached at this level, would be on their mind. I wrote the following:
Assume operational leadership,
Take charge of the team,
Align with key stakeholders,
Engage with the culture, and
Build strategic priorities.
I had used these criteria successfully with other leaders. It seemed to align with typical thinking of what was important for success in the first 100 days.
The initial few seconds of meeting
Finally the executive arrived, very self-assured with an open gaze and half smile, and said, “Oh I’m really sorry, my plane was delayed; and on top of it there were no shower facilities in the arrival lounge at the airport – I had counted on that after an overnight flight!” I raised my eyebrows and half smiled too in response. “So I had to go to my hotel to shower and get ready.” With that smile and twinkle in the eye, it made me feel a sense of lightness of let’s not take all of this so seriously!
They then rolled their eyes and continued “and it took another half hour at the hotel to get my clothes ironed.” I was a bit surprised at the level of transparency with the details of the delay, so early on in our meeting, and I found myself smiling back and making a quick connection to this person I had just met. It seemed to be a mutual feeling as it resulted with “I’ll cancel the first meeting after yours so that we will have at least 2 hours to speak and see what may come out of our discussion around coaching.”
Perhaps, in this moment, I was a source of ‘lack of pressure’ and I had made them curious about coaching too. I felt relaxed and my initial impressions were, “Wow, very self-assured even though they are brand new to this organization.”
The first wave of value: Telling the client what I think they needed
I began with a coaching question that had proven useful with most clients, “Well Okay now that we have two hours together, what would you like to get out of it that will make a difference for you?” Instead, looking straight back at me, they quickly fired back with “I’ve travelled for 10 hours and I’m not sure I want to get asked many questions – you are the expert who has done this before, so what do you want me to get out of this time? ”
I laughed, which is usually my way of gaining some time to think. I quickly processed what I knew so far since meeting, they are being straight and transparent, not playing the social game or following my rules. Rather than following a format of what’s normally worked I responded in kind, “Ok! From my side I would like to explore how we may possibly work together and the value it can give you.” And this was met with a smile, “that sounds like a great result for 2 hours.”
And so I started by inquiring whether any personality assessments or 360s had previously been carried out. We tried to discuss those and it reached its conclusion when the potential client said, “Well, I don’t really put much weight on personality assessments – I have not seen the value add- I have taken a number of them and I do have some 360s. The most important thing for me right now, is how I will get started in my new position and hit the ground running.”
Great! I was now able to share my flip charts then and what they could focus on in the first 100 days. The response was positive, “Wow! Those are great areas of focus – very pragmatic, which I like.” I could tell they were thinking and relating to their experience. They began speaking about each of the criteria for success and as I explained what was behind each, they put their own context to it. They began to take a few notes and then said, “Can you send this to me?” I immediately said, “Sure, I’m happy to send this to you and adapt it based on our discussion.” And then shared more explicitly how they worked that confirmed some of my initial impressions, “I like things simple and straight forward; not too many models that consultants keep throwing around.”
At this point, the conversation shifted into understanding further how leaning into the edge I was offering would work for them. “How does this coaching work? What am I going to get out of it besides talking to you and getting your advice?” I was about to respond with something like, it’s going to be up to you what you get out of it, which I know is also true, however, I made up my mind and stepped up with “Well, that could be one part of it. Often people in very senior positions do not have anyone they can really talk to inside the organization, so being able to discuss the undiscussables and having a thought partner is very useful. In addition, from my experience and what clients have told me, getting real time feedback and suggestions can be invaluable.” They responded in kind, “As I mentioned I’m a very pragmatic person, so I like to know what the outcomes would be.” Here was the word ‘pragmatic’ again and I made a mental note of coming back to it to understand their meaning of this word and how it translated into their leadership style.
Meanwhile, I shared a couple of examples of specific outcomes that other clients had benefited from by working with me. It was through sharing this information and how they were responding, I said to myself, “I really have my potential client listening now!” and followed up with, “I have done several on boarding assignments with leaders taking on key positions and did you know that about 40 percent of senior executives who change jobs or get promoted fail in the first 18 months.” I smiled as I said this raising my eyebrows slightly and they laughed!
Again, looking directly at me and said half smiling “Oh so you’re going to ensure that I make it past the 18 months? Is that the ultimate goal?” I said, “Well besides making it – thriving and succeeding is what you want, right? Well it could be. But I’m not in charge of that. You are!”
The second wave of value: Trust evolves in unusual ways
Another shift occurred in our relationship, when they told me something that they had not shared with anyone yet in this new company, a personal situation that was going to make it even more challenging, than what would be usual for all senior executives, relocating their families to a new country.
Again, I was surprised by this transparency and openness, and in order to reassure them said in a serious tone, “The basis of our relationship, if we decide to work together, is trust. So I want you to know that you can trust me.” Reflecting back on this moment, this is where I made a slight blunder because it was met with a rather serious look and response, “Oh I don’t work along the basis of trusting someone who tells me to trust them! I will trust you. However, if you break that trust for whatever reason, then I will not trust you again.” I wondered about that and decided not to say more on that subject. Yet I appreciated that they were going to be direct with me, and were clearly setting their expectations.
At this point, we still had no ‘formal’ contract and there was about half an hour remaining. In that hour and half, we had built sufficient mutual respect and trust that they wanted to admit something to me, “I have not had (one important organisational function) report to me in previous positions; I would prefer to know in more depth about some of work they do -enough to ask the right questions and challenge them when necessary. Since I need to get up to speed quickly, would you know somebody who could help me?” I said, “Let me think about this. I could see you having a couple of sessions with someone who has this expertise, and whom you could ask any question to, so that you feel more comfortable and competent in your new context.”
I gave them an example of another executive whom I’d worked with who was in a similar role and position. Every time he went into a meeting with people in that important organisation function, all the technical experts involved would smirk at his lack of knowledge of the sophisticated work they believed they were doing. What he did was to engage two experts from outside the company to come and tutor him for couple of months, so he felt comfortable discussing and asking the key questions. I said, “This is quite normal, there are usually some gaps when one takes on a new role with a huge scope. Identifying these ahead of time and speeding up the learning curve is a great strategy.”
In my way I normalized the situation without bringing any judgement to it. This allowed them to express that actually it’s just something that needs to be learnt, and in turn it allowed them, I think, to see me to be a great resource.
Adding future waves of value: Getting into the organization provides big opportunities too
We’d explored quite a few important points when they started to share with me that they really wanted to know what their new organization and their executive team were actually like, because at this point, they had no idea. When they said that, I thought this is good because now I can do what I do best which is to get into the organization and talk to the people. That’s the only way I can support them to on-board quickly.
At the edge: Putting the contract in place
The moment had arrived where we started to seriously negotiate what my role as coach could be. It started with a suggestion of attending an offsite strategy meeting and facilitating that. I was now confident enough to suggest something else. What was offered wasn’t something that would help them make the most important use of my time and strengths AND give them the added value they deserved. And so I countered with, “I can facilitate your strategy meeting, however what I had in mind was to meet your team one on one to get an understanding of their context and what they need from you as the leader.” They hesitated a few seconds and then said, “Yes, let’s think about how we might do this so it can be useful.”
We finally reached the end of our conversation. In the normal way of ending such a session we shook hands, and left on a positive note, “This is great. Really nice meeting you. Thank you. Get back to me on a couple of those points that we discussed.”
I didn’t hear from them for several days and took a bold step to put a contract together. I sent the executive concerned a contract for six months and I roughly calculated I would spend about two days a month working with them. The contract contained the typical fees per day, and other relevant charges and, with the covering email, sent it through to them with the next steps. In the contract, I wrote based on our first discussion, these are the areas we will focus on: your first hundred days with a few bullets (after weighing up what’s really required). And followed with, “Anything else that you want to speak about within this package?”
It was met with a simple response of, and awareness of my previous work with the organisation, ‘Send it to the appropriate person for processing’. I took it as given that this was the approval and contacted their assistant to ensure that it would be taken through the formalities of obtaining a purchase order etc. The assistant and I established a rapport as we communicated on this and turned out to be a key stakeholder because what followed was the challenge of getting our sessions scheduled onto their packed agenda. So I decided a different tactic. This is where many coaches stumble, I believe.
I called the assistant again— and because we had established some rapport, they explained how busy this new executive was and how difficult it was to get on their agenda. I said, “You know what, this coaching is really important for them in the first six months to be successful in this new role. So please make some time on the agenda.” I made some executive decisions on dates together, and found out when the key meetings for the executive were and we scheduled 6 half day sessions at their office.
After our second session, the assistant shared with me the waves of value I was bringing. “I understand that they need you – there are just too many things happening and after they see you, they seem a lot calmer and focused! You are an important person for their well-being.”
We were now off!
Reflecting on the waves of value from working on the edge
Taking the time to reflect on how I add waves of value really starts with knowing that I work best coaching on the edge. Breaking down what that edge is has helped me to realise the number of edges I am working with both psychologically, and physically to create the necessary conditions for that first meeting.
Working with this client from the start what mattered most was those initial few seconds where we quickly processed a lot of verbal and non-verbal behaviours and made a choice of how we each responded, which provided the gateway into having a longer conversation that lasted two hours.
In every moment of our conversation the contracting process was happening, and this typically occurred when I had found the appropriate content for the conversation that resulted in them leaning into my edge. It is this connection that leads to the waves of value that I can bring to our working relationship. I can see this in the way that people offer and add detail that allows them to disclose something that is personal and important to them.
By continually finding and creating the right conditions in that initial meeting – where some approaches may work for some and not for others – it was my job to prove that I was able to ‘add value’. Knowing where my real strengths lie, and when the right conditions and relationship had been created with the client, I was then able to confidently share and articulate the relevance and value of these strengths to them.
It can inevitably always feel like being on the edge - of uncertainty as making a difference, and creating those waves of positive difference involves doing things – differently. Yet, I realise how important it is to get small things just right to create these effects - often small ripples build!
Question: How do you know when you’re working at your edge and making waves of value in that first meeting that leads to results?
To connect with K.C. Char
K. C. Char has held leadership positions in international organizations for many years. For the last 15 years, K. C has applied this experience to advise, consult and coach senior leaders. K. C’s work draws from this rich experience, challenging clients to stretch themselves and find their edge, effectively leading people to perform at their best.
It’s very easy to stereotype and generalize, and this becomes more noticeable when you’re working in a multicultural, multi-country organization because you’re dealing with people in lots of different countries. Without thinking through what it is you want to actually say, it can be very easy to blurt out, “Oh, you’re Belgian, therefore,” “Oh, you’re German therefore,” “You’re American, therefore.”
I attended a recent cross-cultural coach training program in Northern Europe and what fundamentally underpinned the whole programme was to question the relevance of stereotypes when you’re dealing with the individual who's there with you in the room, and there to have a conversation with you.
One of the exercises we carried out early on was to ask all the participants to think through the considerations with cross-cultural coaching. We wrote down all the things you have to think about e.g. technology, speaking slowly, avoiding acronyms etc. And then, a kind of light bulb came on, “Actually, we don’t. What we have to think about is the person in the room.” If the person in the room speaks fluent English and actually doesn’t mind us speaking quickly, and can — what is it you’re implying when you speak slowly?
By speaking slowly aren’t you just assuming they don’t understand you if you speak fast? More importantly it’s about speaking at the pace they can understand.
And then came, “How are we going to take this further?”
It was one line, “Treat them like an individual.”
The answer was as simple as that. It was literally, ‘When you’re in the room with them, virtually or physically, just talk to them and listen to them and treat them like an individual, because they might not be anything like anyone else. They won’t be like any other person you’ve ever met’.
Exploring further my approach to coaching in a cross-cultural environment
I think as coaches, we’re lucky. I think we are lucky in a cross-cultural environment because our natural instinct is to assume less and jump to fewer conclusions (rather than starting at a solution). I’m not going to jump to conclusions about why they’re wearing what they are or jump to conclusions about the way they’re responding to me, or not. What I am going to do is to ask whether they are struggling to understand what I’ve said? Are they struggling to pick up the nuances in the question? And asking more questions, and in particular direct questions in a non-assuming way, is something that a coach can bring to the situation.
Are you struggling to understand or actually, is there something more to this? It’s this idea that as a coach, you’ve got the freedom and the permission to ask direct questions. For example, when someone appears to be upset by a particular situation or question, it’s normal to give them the appropriate space, a coach could also ask if it’s something else, (and I urge all the coaches to ask the question). “I noticed that when I asked you that question, you responded in this way. Why was that?”
Whereas many managers tend to say, “I noticed that when I said that, you shied away from me. And actually, I know that’s typical of where you are from, but I need you to engage.” That’s a huge assumption that the response was simply down to a stereotype. Whereas a coach could just ask the question, “Why did you respond in that way?”
Being able to ask that question, and hear their response, is a great transformational piece for cross-cultural organizations. Understanding the difference between making a judgement and stating a fact as part of their training engages their curiosity to ask why. That someone doesn’t speak up in a meeting, is just a fact. The judgment is when you think that they’re not confident, just because it’s assumed that keeping quiet in meetings implies a lack of confidence.
Bringing ‘coaching conversations’ into organisations
Sometimes it’s necessary to be cautious openly talking about ‘coaching’ even though it happens all the time all over the organisation. For example, someone might pop over to my desk and start talking about some issues they’ve got or some challenge. And depending on the topic of conversation, I might say, “Let’s go have a quiet coffee somewhere” or we might just chat at my desk. I’ve always got my coaching head ready to engage, and I think that helps because people know that.
What I am conscious of, and there are many others who practice what I do, is that I don’t label examples I have shared as coaching either. And then when it comes to our Supervision Group and we’re asked, “So how much coaching have you been doing?” The response is typically, “Well, in the formal sense, I’ve only done maybe two or three hours since the last time we met. But actually, I’m having maybe 5 or 10 conversations a day, maybe 25 a week, which are ‘coaching’ conversations.” And so we train our managers in having coaching conversations, in having an inquisitive mind.
This also forms part of a tiered view of coaching:
It starts with coaching conversations (with some very good basic training around coaching and mentoring for all managers),
Followed by talking to them about what do they know about contracting,
Before moving into the more structured form of coaching.
Thinking back to Ken Blanchard’s Situational Leadership, I agree that there are times and places when you have to be directive. You can’t do anything but — if someone’s put themselves in danger – you need to tell them to stop. It’s not difficult. It’s knowing when to be directive, too. The manager needs to work out the whole platter of stopping points in between being directive to asking them one or two pertinent questions that enable them to go away and work on the answer for themselves, it’s really managers who are having a range of coaching conversations that are showing an aptitude for extending the world of coaching.
The challenge that then materializes is that we get a lot of managers wanting to switch roles and say, “I’m a coach.” Whilst the field works through professionalizing what is coaching it’s useful to use the current lens to explore some of the current perceived challenges.
Following “Coaching Conversations” training is just the beginning towards becoming an ‘accredited coach’. There’s much more to it, a wealth of training and experiences, especially around some of the basics like boundary setting and contracting. For example, someone may approach you for some advice. You didn’t actually give them advice, what you did was to help them explore options for themselves and come up with a resolution.
My response would be that the contract was kind of implicit in the question. However, if they wanted to continue that relationship with that individual, then it’s being more explicit and direct to say, “We want to then coach on a formal basis, we would then expect you to contract with them about outcomes and boundaries and all those things.”
Reflecting on how having a mindset to simply have coaching conversations can break through stereotypes
There is a whole school of thought around cultural stereotypes, company stereotypes, corporate stereotypes, corporate cultures, (Steve Glowinkowski talks a lot about what constitutes corporate culture – and how it can be changed). There is a known bias that senior leaders tend to recruit people who are like themselves subconsciously, some experts recommend for a fully functioning organization to exist and thrive they require a bit of everything, so recommend using a simple psych assessment like Myers Briggs to test this. But from my perspective and experience this isn’t necessarily true. What you need to do is treat everyone as individuals and work out what everyone is going to do. Through co-operation you do create culture.
For example, there are companies now like the BBC who recruit, first of all, based on you as a person, your ‘fit’, not on your skills. When they moved to Salford in the Northwest, their entire online portal was encouraging anyone from the Northwest to apply because they wanted local people. They said, “Go online. Do the tests.” All the tests were value-based asking simple things like, what would you do in this situation, if someone comes and tells you that one of their colleagues has been taking drugs in the toilet? How are you going to deal with that situation?
It was testing your approach to value.
And at the end of it and depending how you answered they let you know whether you’re a good fit, or not, for the BBC. If you are, then you accessed another portal which showed you which roles were currently available where there was a further screening process. Their overall argument is, “It’s much easier to train people in skills because you can retrain as an accountant or a financial controller. But if you haven’t got the right set of values, you’re going to disrupt their company ethos.”
As I mentioned earlier, having all managers have a coaching conversation mindset as part of the multitude of conversations they have every day is one of the ways we’re going to break down stereotypes and they will have an aptitude for extending the world of coaching.
Questions for you:
How do you have ‘coaching conversations’ in your organisation?
Where has it worked best?
What are some of the contexts where coaching conversations can be a limitation?
To connect with Simon:
Simon has over 20 years’ experience of service delivery and continuous improvement in a variety of roles and industry sectors. He trained as a coach and coach supervisor and as Head of Coaching at Fujitsu UK & Ireland he established a Coaching Community utilising internal and external coaches to meet the business need for performance improvement and provided a basis for establishing a coaching competency for the organisation.
He has continued as a coaching ambassador for Fujitsu, presenting at conferences and contributing to publications and professional bodies in order to promote the use of coaching for performance and particularly internal coaching as a valid and valued approach.
He is married with 2 daughters and lives in Manchester, North-West England.
In my 4 years of Coaching practice I have found ‘Time management' improvement as a common goal across several clients.
Most CEOs and Business Leaders work long hours; they are still not able to complete all what they had planned to do and this typically leads to frustration, health issues and disturbed family ties.
Prioritising and planning are obvious areas the Client needs to work on and this can give good results.
In India where I do most of my Coaching I have found that practicing one simple work ethic can bring positive results. I call this,
“Do what You Say and Say what You Do"
Sounds very simple but what is the reality?
When someone is late for a meeting you get a call “I will be there in 2 minutes.” How precise? In reality it could mean anything from 10, 15 minutes to even 30 minutes.
‘A Task will be completed in 10 days’ is rarely completed by the due date. When delayed, there is rarely given a delay indication with reasons AND a new completion date.
Sometimes ‘Task Completed’ may not mean full completion. For example, only 5 out of 7 items in the task are fully complete. Rarely will someone say only 5 out of 7 items completed with the remaining balance of 2 will be completed in 3 days.
In India (and some other Cultures ) our habit for most of these times is to “Do not Do what we Say and we do not Say (precisely) what we do.”
With that sort of work ethic, to get anything done thus requires lots of follow-up, we can never be sure of committed dates and the start of dependant subsequent activities!
End result is non value added follow-up work, delays, longer reviews and meetings, and lots of phone calls, mails and clutter.
Imagine how it will be if everyone in a team follows “Do what You Say and Say what You Do"
This work ethic will require that commitments are given after all aspects and dependencies of task completion are factored, and every effort is made to meet committed dates. Start with simple things like being on time for a meeting.
If committed dates cannot be met it should be conveyed before the due date with reasons and a new date given. Gradually with better analysis of all factors that’s impacting the outcome slippage from committed dates should reduce. Any slippage, then, can only be due to dependencies on which you have no control or cannot be factored in accurately.
Few Benefits that will happen with this work ethic are:
Follow-up (non value added) activity will come to zero
Future tasks based on completion of previous task can be planned and scheduled better and projects completed earlier
Meetings and reviews will be shorter and crisper.
Increase in Productivity and Customer (internal & external) Satisfaction
Embedding “Do what You Say and Say what You Do" with my clients
Most of my Clients have been able to achieve improvements in excess of 50% in Customer Satisfaction, Productivity and Response Time by ensuring that they and their teams adhere to this work ethic.
This Work Ethic does not require anyone to work beyond his or her level of capability and improves a team or a group’s dynamic because it only requires commitment to completion dates, timeliness and preciseness in communication. It can therefore be practiced by everybody: by the Expert, by the non Expert, by the “A” Graded Team members as well as the” C” graded Team members.
Old habbits die hard, and a Team Leader should explain the work ethic to his Team and regularly review whether the new work ethic is followed or not. The approach has to be top down with Leaders applying the work ethic first for everyone else to follow.
Sometimes there is intense pressure from Customers or from the “Boss” to commit delivery in a short time span. As a way out of the pressure situation some people commit to a time which they are unsure about. This should be avoided. It is better to bear the unpleasantness now and meet your committed dates. While Customers are not always expected to listen, Management should listen and give in where the explanationfor more time is reasonable. After all just like no baby can be delivered before 9 months some tasks may require more time than demanded .
Several Managing Directors whom I coached have made placards and pasted them on each work desk so that their Team members keep in mind and practice this work ethic everyday.
With regular persuasion it will take 3 to 6 months for the Work Ethic to be part of a Team’s DNA .
I believe that this is one of the ‘Lowest Hanging Fruit’ for improving Personal Effectiveness that’s worthwhile leveraging.
Besides productivity, response time and customer satisfaction improvements, the biggest takeaway would be ‘dependability’. Everything that’s committed is delivered and occasional delays are communicated well in time. For any organisation particularly in Indian culture this would be a breakthrough step.
It would be interesting to know how Coaches in similar situations or other work cultures might be doing this.
To connect with Aubrey Rebello:
Aubrey brings to the table over 40 years of rich & varied Corporate Experience as CEO, Director, and Business Head with Tatas & Bayer.
Aubrey has strategised & managed a major merger, was CEO of a large NBFC, & Profit Centre Head of a large Business. In all his assignments he has rapidly scaled up revenues & profits. In many areas he has also built up Structures & Processes from scratch.
Post retirement Aubrey continues as an Advisor to a Tata Company. Aubrey is also an Executive Coach to several Indian & Foreign Corporates He is also an expert in Family managed Businesses serving as a Business Consultant & Mentor to Business Families. Having had Leadership Roles in different work Areas & Industries Aubrey’s expertise is in Financial Services , Automobile Industry, Mergers & Integration , Materials Management , & Learning & Development .
Aubrey is an Engineer from IIT Bombay & a First Rank Gold Medallist MBA from IIM Ahmedabad. He is also a Certified Executive Coach - International Coach Federation & NEWS Switzerland. He has several hundred hours of coaching experience at the MD & CXO levels.
WHERE IT BEGAN:
After publishing the first book, Much Ado About Coaching (2014), we intuitively knew that we were doing something different. For a start we weren’t telling people what needed to be done, rather we were interested in sharing our experiences of what was working in practice through our writing. We were looking to inspire others to reflect on our collective learning experiences. We wanted to consider the insights that were relevant to others and help them find their own ways to apply them in their day-to-day. What’s more we were breaking the rules and disrupting the norms that exist both in our field of coaching and publishing.
We were doing something that was quite leading edge too – we just needed to be able to articulate what that was! We needed to break down what it was we were doing.
Everyone had a learning mind set.
We all felt comfortable working with someone else from the group who supported us through the writing process.
We were all excited in being able to share how our coaching experiences shaped us personally and professionally on a regular basis.
On top of that there was something in our approach that supported each of us to stay open and honest about our practice.
It required us to step back and do some further investigation to check whether we were on the right path. Hence it was necessary for us to expand our reach, gain new insights and perspectives, draw on each other’s experience, and give each other room to continually develop our own practice. You might call that practitioner research, or even peer-to-peer coaching.
WHERE WE ARE NOW:
Fast forward two years, and we’re very excited to celebrate our second book, Translating Coaching Codes of Practice: Insights from the leading edges of everyday practitioners. A ‘growing’ collection of coaching knowledge from the leading edges of everyday practitioners who were answering a rather challenging question, “How do you validate your own coaching practice?”
Now let me be clear this wasn’t the lead-in question that we put forward to our practitioners – we’d scare a lot of them away rather than attract them! Coaches are still not well practiced at reporting their own practice and so we took a coaching approach (coaching coaches even) by asking them either what was currently important to them in their practice or what their top three coaching experiences were. It also became apparent that practitioners have very few opportunities to talk about these positive experiences. With every conversation we had we saw how they ‘lit up’ and became more engaged and animated as they got a chance to relive and share those moments with someone else. And then, when they translated those experiences and wrote them into their blog-article that gets published, another blog-article appears, and then another.
Translating Coaching Codes of Practice is an edited volume from a series of blogs first published on the good coach. Over fifteen established practitioners share their insights and experiences of how they translate these questions through their practice, and an exercise we think could be of value to coaches generally. Each coach works in a different context and in different locations around the world. Each share their leading edges of how they are making it work for them. Working with them led us to our most important insight, even confirmation, to date (particularly amongst the good coach blogitorial team): the leading edges in practice come from every day practitioners.
“Why? What’s the evidence?” we hear you asking.
Let us share how we arrived to this point:
In the market: They have all been working and applying their coaching approach in contexts that best fit their practice, and they have developed their credibility and a reputation for delivering a professionally tailored learning space that meets the objectives of other stakeholders involved.
As a practitioner: They are all passionate, and work hard at giving that quality of attention. This leads to engaging conversations that support their clients in strategically meeting their endeavours and continuously reaching their evolving potential.
Articulating practice via blogs: They have willingly (and possibly even unknowingly) begun to translate and share their codes of practice that are unique to them. These practices are typically hard for another individual to fully replicate. Everyone has their own words infused with their own personal meaning to talk about what it is they are doing. Being able to talk about their approach, describing those behaviours and interactions in their own way, they bring alive the words and action in the context and environment they’re each working in.
Moreover, the practice of writing a series of blogs and articles presented another opportunity to report on their experiences (some even call this their real Continuing Professional Development). These opportunities may be based around some immediate situation(s) or may be the result of an accumulation of learning experiences over a period of time (a month, six months, a year, even a lifetime). More often than not it’s a combination of the two. Periodically sharing snapshots of the breadth and depth of their coaching from their environments, they are also disclosing their own personal development through their professional practice as well as demonstrating tenets of good research into where real knowledge lives about what works.
Connecting lived experience with, and where appropriate, to a broad array of currently available knowledge from the wider context, practitioners draw from both of these to make sense of and inform the space they work in with others. The breadth of their knowledge base is also compelling because it suggests that the current places for finding relevant coaching knowledge is too limited and narrow for the realities which practitioners actually operate in. Furthermore, it healthily demonstrates how practitioners are themselves life-long learners. This should in turn inform the coaching field that life-long learning is fundamental in any of the studies and research involved as we don’t yet have a final solution.
Encouraging and nurturing this type of articulation and reporting of practice, which is then published through various platforms and made available to others in coaching, is raising the level of quality and rigor. Additionally, it reveals how each coach has found ways to move beyond the conventional codes of practice that can be viewed as being too vague and out of touch with people’s reality. Experienced practitioners have a much more sophisticated approach of ensuring how they are ‘fit for purpose’ with their market. As one of the contributor’s and reviewer’s said, “It’s a high quality pick ’n mix where each time you dip into the book you’ll look forward to coming back for more insights!”
And so, the first three parts of Translating Coaching Codes of Practice presents:
Part 1: Leading edges in practitioner learning and development
Part 2: Cutting edge performance in practitioner delivery
Part 3: Identifying the competitive edges in the market
Our approach is not to rush to a ‘final solution’; rather we’re more interested in finding those patterns that may eventually lead to similarities that have evolved from the realities of the diverse practice that already exists. We can also learn how to move forward from other disciplines, and they may act both as a cautionary tale and an example of technological ingenuity, about the learning still to come about in coaching.
For example, from the field of biosciences the Human Genome Project (HGP): an ambitious international effort to sequence the three billion nucleotides within thirteen years that would revolutionise health and welfare benefits. It started with a simple premise known as the Central Dogma coined by Francis Crick, “DNA makes RNA makes protein makes us”. However, it became clear through the research that protein constituted less than 2 percent of the DNA. The remaining 98 percent was referred to as ‘junk’ and as Rose and Rose (2014) pointed out, “the term [junk], however, proved to be seriously misleading, with painful consequences for the hope of the HGP as ‘the book of life’…But at the time when the HGP was being contemplated, it was the genes, not the junk, which offered clinical hope and raised the possibility of future patents.”
The term junk suggests that there was a lot of material non-relevant, however as studies progressed this turned out to be a long way from being junk. “The revelation of the complexity of the human genome came as a surprise, at least in part due to the sequencers’ failure to recognise the significance of the fact that the genome is the product of 3.5 billion years of evolutionary history.” A lot has been discovered, but it has not produced that immediate personalised medicine based on genetic information (gene therapy).
There are a lot of parallels, even cautionary tales and lessons we can learn from the HGP and usefully bring into coaching –
starting with evolutionary history; being curious about diversity rather than setting arbitrary boundaries (or what scientists unfortunately referred to as ‘junk’); and
the robustness of coaching approaches that may eventually hold the legal designation of a ‘professional’ that includes independent and objective validation.
In this multidimensional and multifaceted world that coaching currently occupies, the good coach chooses to adopt an approach to ownership that is in-line with best practice for achieving real independence.
And so, in Part 4: Extending the frontiers of knowledge through practitioners’ practice, the final section in Translating Coaching Codes of Practice, we offer some practical and pragmatic perspectives about sharing practitioner experience that we think will continue shaping the perceptions and insights of our field. We suggest using an open approach towards practitioner research, and in parallel building up a quality body of practitioner knowledge that truly represents the leading edges of everyday practitioners. That is where the real knowledge lives. We just have to keep finding ways to get to it.
Extracting learning from ‘vague’ cases
‘C’ was one of the coaching cases which left me with a vague sense of unease. I’ve come to realise that this can be a reliable indication of a lesson to be learned. But I also know that you have to subject that vague sense to some hard scrutiny to extract the learning from it.
So what does some tough retrospection have to offer in this case?
I find myself reflecting on the question:
What did I leave unsaid?
What did I not say to this coachee that I now wish I’d said?
Reading the clues and signals during contracting
Here are the bones of the story. ‘C’ is big and loud. His personality is as colourful as the shirts that he wears, a stab of individuality in the rather reserved corporate culture in which he was then working. At the time of our coaching work together he was in a sales role, distributing complex products across a diverse set of relatively small country markets in Europe and the Middle East. While he had a share of some administrative support, he was essentially a solo operator, expected to nurture and pursue opportunities to grow his fragmented but emerging market. It’s a lonely role, but he was an energetic individual and responded to the challenge by throwing his considerable energy at it.
His coaching was made at his own request. The HR Department agreed to it, and one of his immediate managers. (He has two in this matrix organisation.) After meetings with ‘C’ and this manager to explore the purpose of his coaching, I drafted three objectives, which they and HR approve. The aim was to build his internal brand, profile and reputation. More specifically,
It was to develop his capabilities to influence without having positional power,
To win greater recognition from more senior stakeholders in the firm, and
To present his business plans in a highly professional way.
In retrospect it now seemed obvious that ‘C’ was an outlier in that organisation.
‘He needs to learn how to present his proposals in a way that will secure acceptance in this culture,’ his manager says. This was a clue in itself.
The fact that he was speaking of ‘C’ in the third person while he sat with us in the same room at the time is another.
C’s lurid shirt is a third.
Being comfortable with being an organisational outsider myself – I have worked as an independent for 25 years now – something that I used to know has drifted off into my peripheral awareness. In memory I know that one has to have network, connection and acceptability to be influential and effective in a corporate context. In practice I have lost sight of just how important this is.
I missed the clues in this case.
Consequently I failed ‘C’.
I failed to do one of the things which an experienced coach should expect to be doing: catching weak signals and amplifying them to bring them to the coachee’s attention and hold them there.
This is not about telling the coachee what things mean. It’s about making sure that clues and their possible significance are made loud enough and clear enough and for long enough to receive the coachee’s consideration.
Following through on the ‘agreed’ coaching objectives
At one level it seems all too clear what ‘C’ needs to do to tackle his coaching objectives.
Like many ‘sales’ people he over-relies on one voice. He advocates. He pushes his case. And he pushes it to a fault, not perhaps with external clients, but certainly internally, arguing for support and more resources to pursue the business opportunities that he sees in his territory. ‘It feels like everything is a battle right now,’ he tells me. But advocacy is a battling voice, so it’s not surprising if it makes discussions feel like battles.
I asked him what feedback he has been given in the past about himself. ‘I’ve been told that I need to become more neutral and listen more.’ So we work on developing these capabilities. We do it by,
Increasing his use of articulation,
Explanation through clear, factual exposition, and
His use of inquiry, asking questions to engage shareholders in his thinking by way of their own interests and concerns.
I wanted him to learn how to lead and participate in a process of joint opportunity-spotting and problem-solving rather than trying always to talk people into submission and agreement.
Testing the real value of coaching
‘C’ is characteristically energetic about learning and applying these new voices. He embarks on producing two major pieces of written work simultaneously.
One is his business plan and the rationale behind it.
The other is an innovative paper on a new way of calculating client value and allocating resources.
The business plan eventually runs to well over a hundred pages. It takes him several months to research, consider and write. In the meantime he starts to trail a draft of his much shorter paper on how to value clients with a few selected individuals in his division. He is able to have some informal discussions with two or three senior people. His initiative and ideas are well received by them.
Unfortunately in the process he misses an important window in the annual business planning cycle. This, at least, is not because I have failed to say something. I’ve already reinforced his managers’ message that the business plan should be his priority.
‘C’ however is insistent that he is not prepared to sacrifice quality for speed. He’s determined to produce the most rigorous, innovative and persuasive business plan his managers have ever seen. When it is finally complete, one of his colleagues describes it as the most impressive piece of work of its kind that he has ever seen. But C’s two managers are unimpressed and will not put it forward for further consideration. They tell him bluntly. ‘You’ve delivered it too late.’
This rejection is a defining moment for ‘C’.
Piecing together the missing clues, retrospectively
During the interim review of our coaching the two of them talk at each other for half an hour, without either yielding ground on their points of view. One of his managers – the one who took part in the pre-coaching conversation – concedes that there is good work in it. But he keeps returning to the point that ‘C’ has failed to meet the budgeting window. ‘C’ argues that a good plan takes time to research and should be considered when it’s ready, whenever that is.
Afterwards I asked ‘C’ if he realised what voice he has been using. ‘Advocating,’ he admits, ‘but…’ and promptly does more, as he proceeds to justify himself and his behaviour. It’s another moment when, as his coach, I need to be the amplifier of the signal. What I should have said is that he had gone well beyond advocacy into preaching and that he’d got the reaction and the resistance which was all he could reasonably expect from all that relentless pushing.
Instead I asked him how he proposed to speak to his other manager. ‘I’m going to ask him what he thinks of the content of my plan and for his answers to the questions I’ve put forward in it.’ This sounds more promising, but that meeting – when it comes – turns out no better.
His manager refuses to read the document.
Apparently he merely glanced at the Executive Summary, made no further reference to it and then proceeded to tell ‘C’ what his plan should be. ‘So then what did you do?’ I ask. ‘We ended up in an argument,’ ‘C’ replies, with evident frustration. This is where I should have pointed out to ‘C’ just how strongly his dominant advocacy voice still had him in his grip.
For his own development he might perhaps have been better served by being confronted with that feedback than with help in thinking through alternative strategies for engaging this second manager. Because, as it turned out, the second manager can never be engaged. He remains fixed in a position in which he will not examine or discuss the very substantial analysis or logic behind C’s plan, while at the same time both rejecting its conclusions and saying that ‘C’ must decide what he does next.
It is a powerful illustration of how quickly meetings become unproductive if the participants talk at each other rather than entering into a conversation.
In the meantime the first manager, the closest person ‘C’ had to a sponsor, abruptly left the firm. In so doing he left ‘C’ effectively isolated and after a further painful six months ‘C’ too left the business. It was an unhappy ending to the story.
Extracting my learnings after some tough retrospection
Of course, we’d like all our coaching assignments to end well. But it’s naïve to define coaching success simply in terms of meeting the objectives originally set, when the real issues to be tackled often only emerge during the process. Equally, it’s simplistic to expect success to take the form of propelling the coachee’s career onward and upward, however gratifying that might be for a coach’s self-regard. These are heroic fantasies with the coach playing the part of the white knight.
In reality each of the stakeholders in the process has to be entitled to a personal view of whether, to what extent and in what ways a coaching intervention has succeeded or failed.
C’s first manager, in this case, actually declared himself satisfied with the coaching. ‘I can see that he’s developed. He’s using voices that he didn’t previously have. It’s a more mature way of presenting a case.’
The second manager never gave a view. He was never invested in the coaching, perhaps – for whatever reason we can only speculate – never even committed to developing a working relationship with ‘C’.
‘C’ himself was positively pleased with his coaching. ‘I’ve learned to value myself more.’ And he acted on that self-belief. He left to become self-employed and to pursue his own business.
But just as the coachee and the sponsors are entitled to judge the process and outcomes of coaching, so is the coach. And in this case I recognise now that I missed some moments and some clues that I could have caught and held up for all of us to think about more deeply at the time.
Part of the coach’s distinctive role as a transitory partner is to say things that might not be said by others whose candour is potentially compromised, whether by the need to preserve an ongoing relationship or by vested interest or by the blindness born of familiarity.
So what, in hindsight, do I wish I’d said to ‘C’?
I wish I’d pointed out that working for yourself can be a hard context in which to apply insights about yourself. Self-employment certainly provides freedom of expression and action and a correspondingly broad vista of learning opportunities. But it is also a context in which it is all too easy to remain stuck in one’s existing tendencies, preferences and habits. I could have joined the dots connecting my observation of C’s tendency to fall back into advocacy, a voice centred in self, and his intention to move into a context centred in self-employment. There was a potentially valuable insight to be shared, if only I had noticed it at the time.
But months before that, during the time we were coaching together, I could have been saying, ‘Where’s your manager on this?’ ‘Why did he use that expression about learning to present your business case in a way that will secure acceptance in this culture?‘ ‘Where’s your other manager?’ ‘And where are they now?’ If I’d been more attentive to the need to keep asking those questions, I might have served ‘C’ sooner and better.
I take two particular learning points away from this case.
The first is the value of repeatedly asking yourself, ‘What am I not saying here?’
That’s an explicit question that I am now bringing into my practice, a question to keep in mind not only during the coaching session itself but also in reflecting between sessions. It’s a hard question. It needs thought.
But it directs attention towards the second learning point, which is to keep puzzling over the story. That leads you where you need to keep going, back towards details that you might have overlooked, the fragments of information that didn’t fit into the model or mental framework that you were working with at the time, the weak signals that need to be amplified before they can be accurately heard, the clues that reveal the deeper problems.
It’s a reminder that good coaches direct inquiry and challenge not simply at their coaches but also at themselves.
To connect with Alan Robertson:
Alan Robertson, Chartered FCIPD and Member of the British Psychological Society, has an independent coaching practice, Alan Robertson Associates.
He is also Senior Visiting Teaching Fellow at Cranfield University and at the Cass Business School in London, Director of Business Cognition Ltd and the co-creator and developer of the VoicePrint personal development tool.
I was inspired by a question raised by the good coach about the impact of coaching following the Brexit vote. And I've been doing quite a few hours of coaching with a number of different clients following Brexit who have raised their concerns and I generalise below.
Quick update of the situation
The EU referendum result has created a considerable uncertainty across the country, in the markets, for businesses considering investments, for exchange rates, and for EU citizens working in the UK and UK citizens working in EU countries.
- What did the Leave campaign actually mean when they encouraged us to take control of our borders?
- What will our access to the Single Market cost?
Some Banks have already declared that they will move UK jobs into Europe. There are mixed messages about what the economy is doing. Sterling exchange rates have shifted significantly, favouring exporters and disadvantageous for importers. David Cameron has resigned as PM and replaced by Theresa May, Nigel Farage has stepped down as UKIP leader (again), Boris is Foreign Secretary, Michael Gove is sacked, and Jeremy Corbyn is under pressure from the Parliamentary Labour Party and in a leadership election with Owen Smith. The Scots are unhappy with exiting the EU and making independence noises again. Who knows what the future hold for the UK?
What is our role as coaches amidst this uncertainty?
My coaching style sits at the non-directive end of the coaching spectrum. That means, I do not see it as my job to tell my clients what they should be thinking, or how to interpret their personal and business circumstances, or even what decisions they should be making. What I do is bring lots of support, empathy and encouragement, questions and observations, and an ability to create a space in the uncertainty in which they can pause and think. This may seem like a luxury in the busy-ness, pressure and current urgency (perhaps this is even our new normal). As an old boss of mine once said – when you face a major challenge, I want to see you thinking before you act!
I have noticed that in corporations today, it is easy to be operating like a “human doing” consumed by the task list and too many emails rather than as Human Beings. One way to reconnect with ourselves as “human beings” is to find space to pause and to think. As coaches we can model, through our presence, pace and calmness, that thinking space in which there is no one driving the agenda other than our client. This maybe the only meeting in which they are not being advised or told what to do.
What are the implications for executive coaches working with leaders in the UK and how we work with our clients?
As a coach we may work with professionals who sit on both sides of the Referendum vote. Regardless of the result, though, there is a parallel playing out with some of our clients and the desire of both Remain and Leave campaigns to create apparent certainty; a sense of certainty of the future that tends to:
- Create a partial world view that is certain – either black or white, and encourages the gathering of the evidence to support that view and dismissal of contrary evidence. Unfortunately, this can limit the options and possibilities that are really available to us.
- Seek that sense of control. When we experience a loss of control we can feel threatened and that triggers our limbic flight, fight or freeze response which shuts down our thinking capacity.
I have spoken with clients and sponsors since the vote, who are worried about losing EU employees and fearing a skill shortage; who are holding off making investments and are seeing their sector freeze in the face of the uncertainty.
In reflecting on what my clients have shared, and the work we have done in coaching, three things come to mind:
- Goals and Their Importance
- Circles of Control and Influence
- Possibilities and Options
Goals and Their Importance
The first thing that I am reminded of is the importance of clear goals and desired outcomes. We have re-established the clarity of what my client wants from their coaching. Often in times of great change and uncertainty, as we face now both professionally and personally following Brexit, it is difficult to remain clear about what we want and why it is important. It is easy to be distracted by the unknowns and trying to make sense of what has just happened. It was necessary to spend time on re-creating a clear and specific vision of what outcome my client wanted to create. This re-establishes the platform on which the coaching session and the assignment is built.
Circles of Control and Influence and Concern
One of my clients came into the session clearly agitated and upset, and proceeded to vent his anger and frustration with both Remain and Leave side’s ineptitude, lying, incompetence, cowardice, ignorance, etc. etc. He then bemoaned the uncertainty and how powerless he felt in the face of not knowing what the immediate and long term future holds.
Once he had run out of steam, and regained his cool, we started to explore what he did know and what is in his control and influence. This idea, first introduced by Stephen Covey in “7 Habits of Effective Leaders” and adapted since, helped me to help my client separate the things that concern him into three categories;
- the things we have control over,
- the things we can influence, and
- the things that concern us yet are outside of our control and influence.
I have used this analysis to help clients recognise where they are currently placing their attention, and decide where it is most useful for their energy and attention to be focussed instead. I have noticed that this allows them to let go of the desire to control everything, especially those things that are outside our control, and begin to to accept that things happen even if they don’t want them to. It allowed them to start making contingency plans, and to spend their time and energy more productively. This helps them to step out of the potential roles of Victim (feeling and acting helpless) or Persecutor (blaming others) within the Drama Triangle (Karpman), and instead to step into Choy’s Winner’s triangle by choosing an appropriate response and regaining their own power within the situation. This was re-empowering, and re-focussing for my Brexit client.
Key learning no 2: What can we influence? We can influence more that we may imagine. How our team responds to the referendum outcomes through the example we set in our behaviour and words and body language. How our business prepares for the various scenarios that may play out. The way we share our perspectives with colleagues and friends.
Key learning no 3: What is concerning us yet not in our control or influence? These are the things that can consume a lot of energy and attention, in a very unhelpful way if we let them. It is easy to create a feeling of helplessness (“I’m not OK, You’re not OK”) when our attention is focussed on these items rather than on the things we can control and influence. It may be more useful to keep an eye on these areas of concern to monitor how they are changing and evolving so that we can adapt those things in our control and influence to respond to the changing circumstances.
Possibilities and Options
The third approach I’ve applied, arose from a need for certainty and the potential dilemma that that created for another client. This client asked for my support in making a choice between two unattractive options. She could go ahead, at great risk, with a planned project which had already had considerable time and effort invested in it or cancel the project in the light of the uncertainty and risk losing the potential benefits. It was important to her to choose one of these unattractive options.
Dilemmas are interesting beasts, they appear as clear choices between two clear options. However often the simplicity of the dilemma duality is hiding other possible options.
So, when I heard my client describing the situation in such black or white terms and struggling to choose, I invited her to pause, and take a few moments to explore what other possibilities exist. Starting with re checking the overall outcome purpose and expected benefits from the project we then brainstormed possible ways forward. Early on we included the craziest idea she could think of, which I find often unleashes creativity, and puts judgement to one side while ideas come forth. After a short time, she had several viable options to choose from and made a plan to slow the project overall and to press ahead where she had sufficient data and confidence to generate enough benefit for the investment. She also came up with how she would communicate this to her stakeholders.
Key learning no 2: Invite exploration of other possible options that lie in between the extremes being described.
Key learning no 3: What limiting assumptions are being made that is reducing the situation to black or white – what is hiding the shades of grey? (Nancy Kline offers a way to challenge limiting assumptions in her book “More Time to Think”.)
As coaches, I believe that one of our roles is to create a calm space for our clients to pause from the busy-ness of business and to think clearly, to shift gear from Human Doing back to Human Being.
In all three reflections I have shared above, what strikes me most is that the opportunity to stop and spend some quality thinking time with someone who is really present, and supportive, and challenging without judgement is common to them all. The short oasis of time to step out of the hustle and bustle of the task focussed business, full of distractions and demands on attention, is missing for most executives today. It is not surprising that mindfulness is a popular buzzword in the workplace. I could see my clients visibly slow down, and pause for thought during our sessions, reconnecting to themselves and disconnecting from the Human Doing they spend so much time as.
So what does the BREXIT vote mean for us executive coaches?
I suspect, that like our clients, it means facing not knowing how things will work out, and not having the answers and experiencing all the feeling of vulnerability that not knowing evokes in us. What will we do in the face of those feelings of uncertainty and perhaps even fear? We could try to create a sense of apparent knowing and certainty. Or we can walk beside our clients sharing the journey into the unknown together, sharing the not knowing the answer, and trusting that the client will with our support, listening and questions find a way forward. With respect to what we do as coaches, is BREXIT really any different from any other fast changing moving, challenging, new situation our executive clients face?
I am interested in hearing your thoughts on the coach’s role in the present Brexit Britain.
A. Choy (1990) The winner’s triangle. Transactional Analysis Journal, 20 (1), 40.
M.D.S. Karpman (1968) Fairytales and script drama analysis, Transactional Analysis Bulletin, 26 (7) 39-43.
Nancy Kline (2015) More Time to Think, the power of independent thinking, Cassell, Octopus Publishing Group Ltd.
Stephen Covey (2004) Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Published by Simon and Schuster UK Ltd.
Thomas A. Harris (2012) I’m OK, You’re OK, published by Arrow Books
I would like to take the opportunity to consider the fit between training and coaching in organizations, and how this fits into my practice:
Is training different from coaching?
Is coaching just a way of doing training?
What are the differences between coaching and training?
Can coaching be used as an approach to training?
I would like to look in some detail at one project I undertook recently, as I believe it illustrates some of these issues very clearly.
1. Some of the differences along the training versus coaching continuum
There are many combinations as well as variations as to how some sort of learning/behaviour change programme can be constructed and delivered. It may be over simplifying to use the ‘PowerPoint presentation’ as the typical feature of one end of the training approach – where training is an expert lead activity, and the learning is directed by the expert.
You know when you’re on expert led training when the majority of the time is spent when:
communication is one way
the trainer creates themselves as ‘the expert‘ on the subject at hand
the expert presents instructions about what has to be learned
the learning takes place using the expert language about what is involved
the expert is also the judge about whether something has been learned
A coaching approach, however, can be very different because:
communication is open to all
the participants themselves bring with them important expertise
the expert has to be a facilitator or coach in order for the individuals in the group to be able to take the lead in the agenda
the participants’ own terms are more in evidence in the discussion
the participants are the important judges of the outcomes.
2. An example of an approach to using a Coaching Approach in Training
I shall talk through a recent project that helps to illustrate some of these differences. It is a project that helps to show this ‘coaching approach’ albeit done under the general heading of training.
We were asked to carry out a ‘training’ programme:
The project began with the central client administration contracting with me a training programme to be delivered to a group of staff. However, I was confident that the client would give me a wide scope in how I went about the project. I had worked for them before, and the results I have achieved to date have given them confidence in my approach. However, they are still more comfortable using terms such as ‘training‘– with all its implications!
How the training task was defined for us:
This is a project for a group of about 20 people – all in a particular function for a global organization, all working in the same function but in different units of the organization locally. The head of the department had requested me to intervene and see how this group could work better together - because they work separately in their units, but they also need to work together for the department.
The words ‘work better together’ are quite open, without suggesting what the detail needed to be about.
Similarly, the task was set as an event where I and a colleague, and twenty participants, all arrived at a central location and its training rooms for a two day programme.
Expectations about the way the programme would work at the beginning:
The participants, as usual, were clearly expecting some PowerPoint style presentation to start the programme. The people who had announced that this programme would take place, with bold enthusiasm, had also said something about neuroscience, et cetera.
The parties present were expecting some images of the brain, and that I was going to talk a lot about the brain, etc., etc. This was their expectation, and what they were expecting to encounter.
To counter this expectation, I started the discussion by basically saying that I had nothing to offer them, and that they should decide what is was that they wanted to take back with them.
“Very ambiguous; a very ambiguous opening.”
Reality clashes with expectations:
They were just not thinking what to do and what to ask. One of them asked, “Please tell me what is there in the menu card.” (A typical detailed programme outline)
And so I explained to them that the menu card was slight huge, and just gave them a few examples of what was possible in the menu card, and over and above the menu card. Instead we were looking to talk about what they knew, and I said, “We are going to work on the collective ideas from across the regions, and the collectivism of the group.”
At that point, I actually posed them a question, “Guys, you all have about 20 years experience plus, and are you saying that you’ve reached this point knowing nothing, right?” I continued by asking, “What is it that I can teach you? There is nothing new that I can add. I would prefer to pick up on what you already know and then put it into a frame that we can work on, and give you an insight which would add more value to them, and value to you.”
And that was the point/moment they opened up and when they then started talking about what they wanted to learn. They then landed up talking about communication. They talked about the aspects of communication that they didn’t like, such as being belittled, the lack of respect, and the lack of confidentiality, and how people formed a coalition, etc., etc.
As they were talking I just noted down their words and added them to the flip chart. Then I asked them how they would like the next two days to go? They said that they wanted to look at some ideas for working on all of these things. They wanted to have some fun and bring in some crazy ideas.
They wanted to have fun, and they wanted to learn as well.
And so, we wrote the word “fun” on the whiteboard.
We agreed that, “The next two days, will be fun.” But also at the end of the programme, they needed to define an acronym for F.U.N. There would be a lot of learning, but what they would take back with them was F.U.N. but with a very different meaning. We said, “Let’s start by looking at what that acronym might be.”
They talked about “freedom unlimited,” and moved on to talk about, “friendship united,” etc., etc. We picked up on them all and we collectively confirmed that, “This is to be the theme for the next two days, right?”
I reiterated to them that, this would indeed be what they were going to be working on. The theme being “fun” and that we were going to each bring our own knowledge, and all of us would put it together and convert it into a lot of fun-based learning.
They responded by saying, “Okay. That’s interesting.”
And then I said, “There will be a lot of questions that we will form—we will go through a process of dialoguing. I will ask some questions and you in turn will ask me questions back; that’s how we’ll exchange ideas. And we’ll continually keep records of what we learn, and then move at the end of day two towards fun.”
The entire group in the room was already bubbling with excitement. The group was geared up because they felt very respected. They felt a tremendous amount of autonomy and that there was a real conversation going on. And they knew that this was going to be more than just a fruitless exercise—we had our written agenda. I, as well as them, were just clearer on how we were going to work together which had really come about through our contracting stage. For the remaining time there would be learning. What was learned would then be converted back into a piece of knowledge, and then given back to them.
4. Working through the real agenda…
They talked about communication and various aspects of communication. They mentioned what they liked, or didn’t like such as being belittled, their dislike for being powered down, the need for transparency and the need for trust etc.
Then we asked them to start talking about examples of how that would work.
It was at this point that we said, “Let’s hold on for a minute. You guys all know each other.”
They responded by saying, “Yes, we know of each other. But some of us do not know each other.”
I said, “Okay. Now that such issues are coming out, it’s important for those people who do not know each other well to pair up and sit together for the next two days and start dialoguing with us. Therefore, an informal team will now take place.”
We moved them together, and asked them to continue on with their dialogue. As they pressed on with their dialogue, they were talking with each other and were raising those aspects of communications that they didn’t like. It caused them to feel slightly humiliated and to feel that they’re not a part of the team etc.
We captured what they wanted to focus on with regard to communication. It was not planned, but it just so happened that my colleague wrote all their negatives with a red whiteboard marker, and everything that they wanted to take back, he wrote in green.
My colleague said, “Can you look at this now and see the dangers in red and the positives might be those written in green?”
I then expanded on my colleague’s sharing, “Look at what has been captured through listening to your dialogues. Some are written in red, and the other things that you seem to need to learn are in green. What does that tell you?”
They walked around and said, “Red looks like danger and green looks something that we want to learn.”
And so, we introduced the concept of red and green. “Okay. For the next two days, we are not bothered about whether it is threat or reward. We don’t want to use any terminology. For your understanding, we’ll use the red system and the green system. We’ll continue to develop with red and green; red and green because that came from you.”
Now, everyone there understood the concept of threat and reward very clearly, and they took that with them.
We then exposed them to a small activity. We asked them to look at the communication which they we’re having: to look at the e-mail they read, and the conversations that they were currently having. How many of them were loaded with red, and how many of them were loaded with green? They were very clear that many of the communications, especially those via e-mail, were loaded with red.
We then asked them to reflect on this, “What each of you rated as red, can you also understand that it is not red on the e-mail? It is only red internally to you, just spoiling the hell you’re in, creating your own internal emotions to raise. And if you want, I can talk very, very basics about how the brain works etc. But that is not what I’m interested in. And if you want, we can throw in all the types of brain parts and tell you how they work. But it’s more the realization that it is affecting our health which is more important. And that is what we are to be selfish about.”
This began to make a lot of sense to them, and the more questions I asked the more examples started to come from them.
5. Checking how our coaching approach to training worked:
We asked them at one point in time to simply write on a sticky note how they felt the workshop was going. And they responded with, “Really nice,” and more of them wrote, “Very interactive.” One person even wrote that, “We know we have nothing to give, but we’re picking up from your knowledge, and we are building on it highly-interactively.”
The trust level from facilitating that point of view, and the level of acceptance from them that we can learn something here was shared by another participant, “I don’t need to feel threatened that there’s going to be a new training-based concept that was set up as part of the expectation. This was extremely hard for us, though it was not stated, and that was the unstated part, which really gave us that power to continue doing.”
They were really very surprised that there wasn’t any PowerPoint available, and that I was not following a typical training structure, but instead building on the things that were coming from the floor as they came up and putting them into the frame, which was extremely well-received.
We also followed through on the outputs in various ways as a way of ensuring that this session started to change the way the organization worked. We continued to get similarly positive comments as well as very highly motivated and confident feedback about how they were doing things differently, and were much better as a result.
It is interesting to see how in an international organization there is a balance between processes that are generally common in organizations, as well as emphasis on the processes that can have an important local focus.
The emphasis here was on respect and self-esteem. They became strong
themes, and support, when investigating what was going on with regard to communication among the group.
The real challenge is the confidence and skill the leader can bring to ‘letting go’ and knowing how to stimulate other participants into sharing and building appropriate leadership.
It is still more difficult to consider what this involves – which is why this exercise can be so useful.
Even if I used some of the coaching language such as the basis that neuroscience brings which I believe is very powerful, even neuroscience doesn’t tell us exactly what to do with the immediate people in the room, from moment to moment.
There are also plenty of other models around in coaching. But again, I still feel that we were working and choosing behaviours that make a difference, and which are still so ‘intuitive‘ that we need to work hard to start to express exactly how they work.
To connect with Krishna:
R Ramamurthy Krishna who brings thirty (30) years of multi industry, multinational culture experience. A Global Professional in Human Resources, A Professional Certified Coach from International Coach federation. He is the only Indian to be admitted to Association of Professional Executive Coaching and Supervision, United Kingdom.
Krishna bring a rare flavour of neuroscience to leadership having been certified by Neuroleadership institute, Australia. An active blogger, author and speaker. He is also one of the few persons in Chennai to run his own Executive Coaching School.
He held senior leadership position in Human resources in Multi National Organisation and presently engages himself as Practicing Cognitive Transformationsist and Perspective Partner with Potential Genesis HR Services LLP.