Redefining ‘Coaching’

By | Coaching and Mentoring, Education, Leadership Toolbox, Personal Development | No Comments

Do you think of any of these if I say ‘coach’?

Understanding different perspectives
Most people have a clear idea of what a coach is, maybe even what a coach does. The difficulty is matching it with what we, as coaches think we are, and with what we actually do.  OK, so my pictures are a slightly extreme set of examples, but I have been wondering if it’s about time for a total re-brand.  The idea of ‘coach’ seems to be so ingrained in people’s minds, that it proves tricky to get people to fully understand what coaching is and what it can do for them.  What keeps me going, standing on my soapbox, is that people who have had (high quality) coaching are generally sold on the idea.  It’s just those who havent experienced it that we struggle to convince.

In some ways the challenge that needs unravelling is all about detail, semantics even, and being rather pedantic in our own use of the term.  I spent many hours discussing and writing assignments for my coaching qualifications on the subject of coaching versus mentoring. I’ve had similar conversations with my sporting colleagues – they used to be ‘instructors’, then ‘trainers’, and now… ‘coaches’.  The real problem is that people – and often our potential clients -no longer know what to expect.

Should we define coaching?

Maybe it is pointless to get hung up on the niceties of the language, because the key thing is to be able to communicate with people around us in a language that is meaningful to them.  If any of you have done battle with research papers and ended up almost screaming for clear, plain English, you might know what I mean.  Another common frustration might be the use of jargon (and most professions have it), which isn’t helpful when relaying information to a lay audience: it needs to be readable.  I have a friend who is a great research scholar, but she spends a significant amount of time re-writing her work for blogs so that they are accessible to people outside academe.  It isn’t dumbing down, it isn’t damaging our language, it is about communicating appropriately for our audience. So, for these reasons, we need to know what our potential clients think coaching is, rather than insisting on what we believe it to be.

Selling the idea

It really isn’t new – we need to provide what our clients need (if we can’t then they need signposting elsewhere).  Marketing our services isn’t about what we can do, it is about matching what our clients want with the strengths, skills or experience that we have.  If we turn the marketing equation around like this, it immediately makes more sense to look at the possible outcomes of coaching, rather than offering ‘coaching’.  Working in this direction also means that listening to what our clients want becomes central to the conversation and the plan.  It sounds obvious, but these basic tenets of business so often get lost in the moment.

So, what might coaching be?

I had a eureka moment last Spring whilst working with senior leaders in schools.  In education, there are clear set-ups for coaching which are roles that are supportive, informative, guiding and training.  In some words, then, closer to mentoring in my book.  This means that, mostly, if you are taking to educators about coaching, they will have this idea.  If you talk to someone in the caring professions, they may well jump to the other end of the continuum and start by imagining counselling (and that really isn’t coaching).

One day the Head Teacher was talking about a ‘coaching’ session that she had attended which had really got her thinking becasue it was novel. Her coach had used some great tools and practical exercises to create analogies for where she was and where her team were, what the barriers were and where they wanted to get to.  It was a new approach and challenged her view of coaching.  It helped clarify the terms for me, highlighting how differently people view coaching.

Describing coaching

In truth, coaching is made up of myriad elements and it is this that probably makes it so difficult to describe accurately. We might look at the way that a coach reaches their objectives, very often they’ll describe themselves through the tools that they use,  for example’I’m an NLP practitioner’, or, ‘I’m a mindfulness coach’. Alternatively they might look at the specific challenges that they’re going to address, ‘I’m a career coach’, ‘I’m a transition coach’, ‘I’m a performance coach’.

I’m making no value judgement here, but here is the question: how can we separate all these elements when home, health, career, lifestyle are all entwined in each of us? How can we know that a particular coaching tool will be a panacea?  Don’t we need to understand exactly what each of our coaches will need?

 

Talent

By | Coaching and Mentoring, Leadership Toolbox, Personal Development | No Comments

TALENT

Let’s think about ‘Talent’.  Just what is talent?  It is a widely used word, but in sport coaching we are careful how we apply it and this got me thinking…

We might say that someone has a talent for sport or a talent for leading people or a creative talent.  Current thinking is that it is about the hours that we put in to make things work.  It is about the effort and commitment that we make which leads to successful outcomes. Do I hear you say ‘no, I could never do this/that/the other, of course there is such a thing as talent’?

One of the things that I love about my work as a coach is the transferability of coaching principles.

Let’s think about that.  If we start with sport, it helps to illustrate the point. Consider a Ladies netball team. Do they have physical attributes in common? How about great bowlers – do our best cricketers have anything in common? How about Gymnasts? Sport climbers who almost run up impossible-looking rock faces? Rowers?  Ask yourself, are they tall? Short? Well-built? Wiry?  Can you see a rugby prop doing gymnastics? For sure, we can all make a difference to our body shapes, but only to a degree.  We wouldn’t expect the best sport climbers to be powerful rowers. We wouldn’t expect our netball players to be gymnasts or ballerinas.  There is no judgement in this, it’s just the way we are.  We build on our physical attributes and learn the motor skills for our sport.  We develop patterns and neural pathways which mean we don’t have to think everything through from scratch.  

Although there may not be a direct comparison, it isn’t a huge leap to accept that we are born with a certain nature and then, as life goes on, we build on early interactions to develop ourselves into who we are today.  It means we are all different, we all have strengths, weaknesses, likes and dislikes.  We may have great ‘emotional intelligence’, we might have excellent practical skills, we might be very creative, we might love a challenge.  This is the fascination with people: we are not the same. And this is where the challenge comes in when we have to work with those different people….

I think that talent is maybe something rather more subtle than we first thought.  It is the intrinsic ‘wiring’ of our brain, or the shape of our body plus commitment and practice in what we want to do.  

It is all a question of degree, of our expectations.  Somehow we need to identify realistic expectations.  If we’re not built to be jockeys, then we must look to what we can do: if not flat race, then maybe a steeplechase jockey who can be taller.  If we are too broad to be a sport climber, then maybe a mountaineer.  For World Class athletes or for leaders of the World’s biggest companies, then we are likely to need a very specific body type or set of brain functions, but if we want to do well at a different level, then maybe there is nothing stopping us.  Just because we can’t run a country, we shouldn’t give up on helping at a community level.  Just because we aren’t brilliant with numbers, it doesn’t mean we can’t run a business.  If we are great with people, then perhaps we should look at jobs that need those skills, if we are practical and logical and risk averse, perhaps we should look at jobs that need that.  If we love numbers, then there are jobs that need those skills. We don’t all have to climb the same career tree, there are people in diverse roles who can all reach the top.  We can compete at a high level in sport or sports – there is no shortage of people succeeding in second sports because, given the right build, a huge part of success is mental.  It is the determination and single-mindedness to focus on a vey specific goal – at the highest level this is usually to the exclusion of just about everything else.  We need to pick our level, decide on the balance we want and then be sure that our expectations are realistic for the person that we are. 

Finally, then, next time you wonder what’s stopping you from reaching the top of your tree, perhaps the first question is, ‘Am I climbing the right tree?”

Responsiblity…What is it really?

By | Coaching and Mentoring, Leadership Toolbox | 2 Comments

I am just in the process of developing a workshop for a client who is hoping to help her team to become more proactive, leaving her to cover more strategic challenges.  One of my start points is to consider accountability and responsibility. Well – don’t ever type THAT into Google! No only are there myriad references, but also lots of differing opinions.  Ultimately, like all else, we need to make our own decisions on what we believe is right for our context and what is well-evidenced.  Anyway, accountability is one for another day because I found this neat little video (Thank you Active Nation) which describes responsibility pretty succinctly.

I hope you like it too.

Getting ‘STUFF’ done

By | Education, Leadership Toolbox | No Comments

There are a few recurring themes when I’m coaching people.  One of those is about ‘Time Management’.  We could get into discussions on the practicalities (lists, urgent vs important).  We could argue that time is not something that can be actively managed – it has to be about what we do within the confines of that dimension. We could get into philosophical conversations about the meaning of life, work and ultimate purpose.  Lets leave all that for another day.

I have been reading a neat little book by Andy Buck about leadership in education and he made mention of this video.  It’s only about 5 minutes, (so it is a good investment in time, and allows us one last shot at procrastinating!)

Enjoy it…

SPACE – Definitely not the final frontier for learning

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Space – (Definitely NOT the final frontier for learning!)

 

Yesterday I attended an interesting conference on Critical Leadership.  In just a short space of time we touched on many topics which challenge us as leaders.  One of the themes centred on how we keep formal learning going in our day-to-day jobs once we return from the buzz of workshops.  This is a topic very close to my heart.

Four points stick in my mind as crucial for continued learning:

–        We need to open spaces for conversation

–        We need to listen and empower

–        We need to foster constant curiosity

–        We need to enable conversations

If I could have created a word cloud from the speakers yesterday morning, I think that SPACE would have featured in the centre in huge letters.  It’s something that we just don’t really have in our busy lives, busy jobs and busy careers.  Yet how can we see what is happening if we don’t make a space to understand what is around us?  How can we start to get these four points into action if we don’t have ‘space’?

Another phrase which would have being pretty obvious in the word cloud would have been CRITICAL FRIEND. (And underneath that I would have posted ‘constructive challenge).

This is all great metaphorical chat, but what do I mean in practical terms?  OK, please stay with me on this…..

Creating a SPACE, means we can give valuable time to reflection.

Reflection is an increasingly well accepted and understood ‘tool’ for deep learning. Taking the time to really think about our experiences means that we can gain new and useful perspectives.  When we reflect, we can create some structure for our thought processes, use positive questioning to get deeper understanding and see the small but powerful changes that accumulate to lead to our success.

How often do you get to the end of a working day and feel that you have achieved nothing?  I think most of us have been there at some time, but even on those days, if you took just ten minutes out (sitting in the car before you drive home, walking the dog, cleaning the goldfish bowl – whatever…..) and identified the smallest thing, the tiniest positive achievement for the day, I am sure there would be something.  It might not be something that you would see as directly relevant to your role, but think again.  When you showed someone a quick move on the computer (that you do without even thinking about it) – that could have a lasting benefit.  When you made that difficult call, but still didn’t reach the right person – at least you have started climbing that fearsome rockface.  When you answered the door for someone, even if they should have done it, it gave you a moment to let the blood back into your legs after sitting for hours at the computer.  If you set up the template for a new spreadsheet, but didn’t enter any data – well, it’s one thing less for tomorrow.  In those mundane examples we’ve covered well-being, support and encouragement shared learning, and action just for a start!  Don’t dismiss the small stuff, it just might be valuable.

So, when I sit down with you as your coach (for want of a better label!), we create SPACE.

First we set some ground rules.  One of these is that we recognise that this time is your time to do with as you choose.  It will not be interrupted, cancelled, driven by me, scripted, or disrespected. It is golden time, a rare oasis away from hustle and bustle. I will guide our conversation and challenge your thinking when necessary. I will hold you to account for your planned actions but most important of all, I will be facilitating your reflection and helping you to embed esoteric learning into practical actions and tools.

Go on – find your SPACE.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am your coach..

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Remember this: as your coach I am there to help you. If it’s a technical question, I will answer it, so you don’t have to post on social media or spend time searching.  If I don’t know the answer – I’ll find a way of getting it.  (I won’t guess! I’m a scientist by trade, so I like a good evidence-base).  If it’s something more human or intangible, that’s fine, I’m there to support you.

It might sound odd, but you could think of me as a kind of ‘Professional Friend’. I might not be the person who knows your inner secrets and gives you a hug when things go wrong, but I am the person who is keen to see you on your feet again.  I’ll be helping you to see clearly (again), helping you to recognise and define your goals and seeing you head off onto a path where you can feel confident, get your mojo back and achieve the things that you so want to do.

I am your coach, but this doesn’t end when our meetings finish.  I am there – on the phone, at my keyboard and I’m always happy to help you via any (reasonable!) medium. Instant messages, texts, phone calls, skype, e mail. Oh, and let’s not forget – I love a good cup of coffee, so meeting up is always a winner.

But, you know what?  You don’t even need to have a problem. You don’t need to feel down to get in touch – you might have something exciting to tell me: I won a new contract, the new job’s going really well, I won a rosette at the horse show last weekend.  Being a coach means that I can take vicarious pleasure: seeing the success of others is great.

You Are Amazing!!

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You are amazing.                       You are unique.                         You are you.

So, I sometimes start off workshops or coaching groups by asking people to consider why they are amazing.  I don’t ask them if they are amazing, because I know that they are.

It’s a difficult question for most people because we grow up looking at role models and seeing what people around us do – and frequently it leaves us feeling that there is still more to do for us to emulate them.

That might be true, but what we forget is that we have our own personal bits of amazing-ness that they don’t have.  We rarely see the people who look to us a role models because nobody ever says ‘Hi there, you are my role model’.  It would probably feel rather creepy (for us) and maybe embarrassing for them. So, here is a story for you; if you’ve met me, you will almost certainly have heard me mention my Mother.  She is amazing.  Not just now (as I am old enough to appreciate it), but when we were younger too.  She is strong and determined but unconditionally loving. She is compassionate and gives her time freely to many causes. She is busy. She takes care of herself.  When family focus was on me and my brother, she made her own clothes with designer labels so that she could have the best clothes even if they weren’t from a shop. She worked hard in a hospital and worked hard for the family. She found time, even then to do things for other groups as a volunteer. If I can add to peoples lives like she has and if I can grow older gracefully, elegantly and by keeping busy like her, I shall be proud. She is my role model. Yet it was only last week that I told her.

So, what makes you amazing? It might not be something really obvious, maybe it was something you did for someone years ago that made a difference for them though it was just part of your nature.  Maybe you are brilliant with spreadsheets; able to run fast; fab at fixing stuff; good at getting things done.  Did you visit an unusual place that left you in awe and wanting to tell other people? Did you complete a plan in difficult circumstances? Have you overcome a tough time and come out the other side smiling again? Did you do something that you thought you could never do?  Have you kept an unusual pet?  Did you make someone laugh this week? The list goes on, but you get the idea? What makes you amazing might be something quite small, but which makes you unique.

What’s the point of this? Well, a common request in my coaching conversations is to help improve self-belief. As in so many instances, it is really about searching to find those things that you know about yourself but which have got forgotten, lost or hidden under other things. Once we start to delve, you’ll find those bits of amazing-ness for yourself and the only challenge then is to say them aloud and recognise them for what they really are.

Go on, try it.  Think of something amazing about yourself and just tell the cat/dog/goldfish/houseplant. Simply saying it out loud is a great first step and might just give you that initial, positive step towards realising who you really are.

The Praise Sandwich

By | Leadership Toolbox | No Comments

We’ve all heard about this: how to give feedback.

I was always brought up to avoid food fights, (though school raspberry jelly was good for not much else), and recently I was the victim of just such a sandwich flung unceremoniously in my direction.

I wasn’t sure if this was feedback badly done, or whether I really was a complete disaster in the work I’d just completed.  In the cold light of a new day, and with my rational hat more firmly on my head, I am fairly sure that it was the former.  After all, I know that I can do my job, even if not always perfectly.

So, this got me thinking…..

Just why was I so aggravated by this horrible sandwich?  I think it comes down to something really simple: honesty.

We all know that trust and honesty are foundation stones in any relationship and tinkering with these building blocks is going to weaken the whole structure.  Don’t get me wrong – we should not be brutal, discourteous, thoughtless or undiplomatic in what we say, but there are ways of getting a message over and there are ways that messages really shouldn’t be delivered.

So, what is wrong with the ‘Praise Sandwich’?

First, the negative feedback, (criticism, or suggestion for change) can get lost in the crusts of the sandwich.  When the praise is too much, too gushing or focussing on major parts of a job or role, then this is what we will hear. The critical feedback will be a thin layer of sour jam that gets lost.  This is completely pointless and would certainly leave me wondering why I’m suddenly getting all this praise.  A bit is lovely, but lots of it?  Things that happen anyway, part of the job – why are they suddenly getting a mention?  I’m suspicious, confused. Was the criticism the important bit, or the praise? I’m wondering what the hidden agenda holds.  Oh, and by the way, was there something you wanted me to do differently?  Happy to try but I’m not really sure if it was OK or not….

Second; if the praise is thin, it will not be authentic. Any of us will see through that and head straight for the filling. There’s a double whammy here because not only am I going to be fed up that the job wasn’t right, but the giver of my feedback isn’t being honest.  They want to give me criticism but they are hiding it in something meaningless.  Why are they doing this? It will make little difference by now if the criticism is constructive or not; the damage to trust has already been done.

We don’t want to write our first novel and be praised for our handwriting on the cover letter. We don’t want to design an amazing new machine to be told it’s a nice colour. Get the idea?

So, next time you are giving feedback, think about this.  Identify the elements that really matter and allow for small differences. Respect the person getting the feedback, be kind but be clear. Be honest but positive.

Social Media, a Game for People to Sell more……?

By | Business

social-mediaSocial media is a way to sell more social media.

Social media does not sell more of your products and services.

Social media takes significant time, but there is no evidence for an acceptable return on the time investment.

DISCUSS……

A quick scan of Google (and a few abstracts from academic articles) doesn’t help a great deal.  As a business owner what I really want to know is how much additional turnover I can gain from investing in social media.

Social media gurus (who DO make money from selling the idea of social media) turn the idea of ROI into just about anything that they like and it no longer means ‘return on investment’.  We are all drawn into discussions on ‘Attention’, ‘Interaction’, ‘Velocity’, ‘Conversation Index’,  and for websites- ‘click throughs’ and so on and on.

My question is still not answered.

OK, so how about brand.  Is it all part of that far less tangible idea of brand and reputation?  Do we need to just ‘get our name out there’?  I return to the old idea of the sales hook, you get someone’s attention, you engage them with information that interests them, persuade them that they want to buy in, then close the sale.  Social media might well catch someone’s attention, but the real trick is to engage them and hold them there.  It might do. But the final parts of the sales process are already disappearing into the mists of the day.  Remember that car salesman?  He knows only too well that if he doesn’t close the sale when he meets his customers, then there is a slim chance of closing the deal. So I suspect it is with social media – it just gets us part way.

I’m still not convinced.

“Ah”, shout the gurus, “but you need to ‘do’ social media because all your competitors do it”.  Hmm, well, I still have a problem here because they aren’t the same as us and anyway, that doesn’t make it right does it?  We become followers, (An unplanned pun there!), not leaders.  We want to be at the front, changing ideas not running to keep up with the rest.  So it’s going to take one of the big boys to be brave enough to say NO to social media. Well, maybe.

So, I’m opening up this question – ‘how much extra revenue does social media bring to YOUR business?

I’m waiting to hear from you…. 

 

 

 

People are central to our corporate strategy…….

By | Business

I hate that title because it is a contradiction in terms – linking people so closely to something that sounds like a book or file of papers.  Perhaps I’d be happier if it said, “they are central to our success”, or better still, “to our development”.

It’s often said that people are the critical part of a business, but how often is that ‘value’ really played out?

Type ‘People are central to our business’ into Google and you’ll get just under 50 million results.  On the front page we see some major corporations, but how many companies actually live this phrase I wonder? Exactly what does it mean?

Of course, businesses need people just in order to operate, but we are really considering how people can add value and help the business towards success. This could be a v.e.r.y.  l.o.n.g. article, but let’s stick to the idea of developing engagement and skill through coaching.

In conversation with a leading educationalist recently, she was telling me how the value of coaching lies in its bespoke nature and its continuance.  Compare this with training courses and it a bit like the old story of employee benefits: the long term value of an appreciative working culture compared to the short term one of a raised salary.

Investing in your people can mean many things and often involves direct financial resource (paying for it!) as well as indirect resources (cost of time out for example). Offering people the chance to learn and develop means that you are giving them special consideration and this is a powerful motivator. Think how good this can be over a period of time….Think how quickly it could be forgotten after a training course.  (And then compare the relative returns on investment!) Imagine the opportunity to deal with challenges when they occur and have someone there to help you think through them? Compare it with a course…..now which ‘tool’ was I shown for dealing with this problem?

This is just food for thought…. what do you think?  Read More