All Posts By

Alison Payne

Courageous Conversations for Senior Leaders in Schools

By | Coaching and Mentoring, Education, Leadership Toolbox

Difficult conversations, challenging conversations, courageous conversations

We all have to have them at work (and sometimes at home!), and it must be one of the most common themes that raises its head in my leadership coaching sessions.

I’ve been back to school, (well working in schools) and goodness have I been learning a lot recently. As well as being a coaching topic of conversation, I run workshops on courageous conversations, and not only am I discovering the true meaning of coaching, (in another article you’ll find me talking about ‘how to coach through sharing’) but I am seeing more examples of tough conversations and more ways to handle them.

I will give you some tips on how to have your courageous conversations, but first it might be more help to highlight ways in which you can  discover how to plan them for yourselves.  After all, it is you who will be in the room, not me!

There are any number of resources on how to have difficult conversations and over the past 18 months I seem to have been doing a lot of reading (as well as listening!) around the subject, so I will be distilling some of the points which seem to shine through most often.

We worry about conflict

Not all conflict is bad.  It’s just that the word itself has negative connotations.  Consider ‘challenge’, or ‘competition’ or ‘different perspectives’.  Quite often what we see at first to be conflict can actually be questioning, challenging or re-framing.

Let’s face it, healthy challenge broadens the mind and promotes new understandings and perspectives.  It keeps us all awake to new or alternative views, different ideas or alternative beliefs and values.  In our communities, this social element is crucial and whilst we don’t have to agree with opposing views, if we avoid being judgmental then things can immediately start to ease up: once we start to understand someone else’s view we can start to walk in their shoes.

Think about sport perhaps?  Living in Wales we see the fierce competition and battles of words every Six Nations when the Welsh/English match comes up.  The strength of feeling is almost tangible, but it is sport and the effect of disagreements is limited.  Everyone (pretty much) moves on. (And then we have the same next time!) The competition is healthy and stimulating.

Oh, and just a thought; if you never need to have a ‘difficult’ conversation, if you never have any opposing views, then it is worth asking yourself if you are looking straight past it and giving it a wide berth.  (You won’t be the first person to do this!)

What sort of conversation is it?

So, having taken some of the sting out of the idea of conflict or disagreement, it’s worth stepping back and thinking about what kind of ‘difficult’ conversation it needs to be.  There is merit in picking your battles, nobody likes a nit-picker.  Look for the things which really matter.

Let’s start with the toughest:  these are issues which are around serious misconduct, behaviour  or ongoing performance issues.  They may have already escalated to include HR and could have implications for long term employment.  Someone has to have these conversations, but – apart from gross misconduct – they should have been picked up and managed over a period of time.

Next in line are the issues that affect the day to day: in schools it might be a failure to create an effective learning environment, marking books or drifting away from the curriculum.

The least tricky might be about dealing with lateness, forgetfulness or a change in someone’s way of working.

A small aside here; performance reviews and appraisals are not the place for dealing with these problems.  Remember a golden rule – no shocks or surprises in appraisals. They are there to develop good performance and although they need to allow for review of past work, having a ‘difficult conversation’ within that forum is going to damage chances of a positive meeting to look to the future.

Doorstepping and corridor conversations

Let’s be clear: if you need to deal with something that is going wrong it needs to be given the time, consideration and respect that it warrants.  Creating a formal meeting means that you and the other individual can focus on what needs to be discussed. Imagine a box and put the conversation into it, take it somewhere safe to open it where you can both explore the contents in a safe space.  As you take the issues out of the box in that space you can look at them carefully and without interruption.  They will show their importance much better than a quick, ‘..oh, by the way….’

Tips

The great thing is that these are not my tips, they are not taken from a book, they are not generic rules. They are taken from Senior Leaders in Education who worked closely together and attended our workshop.  I love this and it is what really got me to thinking about how effective coaching comes from sharing.  Certainly, there will not be any great surprises in these top tips if you are used to having difficult conversations, but the wonderful thing about these in particular is that they are drawn up by the very people who will be using them, so they can be taken back to the real world in a ready to use form.

  • Plan what you are going to say. (Practice aloud, talk to the dog, go through it with a colleague – like role play).
  • Be empathetic rather than sympathetic (Don’t ‘collude’, but do build rapport).
  • Listen between the lines (Interpret, listen actively).
  • Allow the other person time to talk (let them think, LISTEN to their solutions, allow yourself time to think, hold the silence!).
  • Have a detailed and objective understanding of the issue. HAVE CLEAR EXPECTATIONS (outcome, tone of conversation, what can be achieved in one conversation)
  • Be clear from the very start of the conversation.
  • Be precise, be clear, be specific, be concise, use careful questioning
  • Stick to the message.
  • Be open-minded and non-judgmental (Listen to their views but be clear on the required outcome).
  • Consider how you use ‘we’, ‘I’, ‘you’. (We are a team, I will help you, you need to do this, we all want the same outcome – for the children ultimately).
  • Gain commitment and check understanding (Set deadlines, review times).
  • Work with the whole team for a solution (Don’t take it all on yourself).
  • Bounce things back, keep the ball in their court. They need to think of solutions, take responsibility)
  • Remember, you can do this.  YOU’VE GOT THIS!!

Finally…

There is no quick way to learn how to have these courageous conversations – I could run an entire programme on the different elements that come into consideration.  I’m not sure that they get any easier with experience, but what I am pretty certain about is that – with practice and experience) we can get braver about having them.

Developing leaders in Education: Why Coaching?

By | Coaching and Mentoring, Education, Leadership Toolbox, Personal Development

Overview

This article introduces us to the reasons why coaching can be a very successful intervention in supporting leaders and aspiring leaders on their leadership journey.  This particular offering is based around resilience, (tested greatly 2020-21), but could equally well focus on other leadership and personal development themes.  It includes face to face coaching with the option of virtual sessions and can be monitored using a mental toughness questionnaire at the outset and close to demonstrate areas of change.

THE PROGRAMME

The aims for the programme and coaching practice

The programme is designed to deliver specialist educational leadership coaching based around organisational leadership with a focus on strategy; delivery and accountability; people management; workload consideration and accountability; long-term development and divergent thinking to meet the needs of the future educational landscape (sustainability) and financial and partnership working for more effective leadership.

The coaches involved are experienced professional coaches who have worked for many years in education and who bring an objective perspective to their coaching in this particular environment.

The coaching programme offers a supportive framework for the team as well as individuals and is based around real-world challenges which ensures that the conversations have a practical impact on leadership capability in the setting of each individual’s role.

The coaching meetings always have an agenda driven by the participant, with the coach offering a facilitated conversation which allows the coachee to explore their own ideas and derive their own solutions with guidance as necessary.

In the context of educational organisations the expectation of coaching is often centred around mentoring from an experienced school leader who provides support through specific guidance and help, but with an encouragement to the coachee to explore and extend knowledge themselves.  As such, this falls between ‘pure’ mentoring and ‘pure or facilitative’ coaching. Coaching in other contexts – such as this programme – is more wide ranging, allowing the coachee to drive the conversations. A facilitative coach helps the client to develop the ability to grow knowledge and confidence through reflection and understanding of themselves which encourages deeper learning and a longer-lasting benefit.

Why coaching rather than formal training?

NPQs, tailored support programmes and other leadership development within Education have long used coaching to support the development of leadership skills introduced through formal training courses.

Coaching is accepted as the best long-term driver of change. As far back as the turn of the 20th Century, John Dewey (in his ‘Pedagogical Creed’) recognised that learning by doing was a powerful method for education. Both problem-based learning and project-based learning have elements that are relevant to coaching today, highlighting how we can learn in a practical, real-world environment and develop skills which will be valuable for long-term self-development and efficacy. This approach to learning helps us to develop flexible knowledge, effective problem-solving skills, self-directed learning skills, effective collaboration and intrinsic motivation.

Coaching facilitates the link between what is happening and how we can develop our skills to achieve goals not only now, but in future.

Research from Leeds Beckett University in January 2020 describes how coaching helps to build leadership capacity.*  This is a key report and highlights some important features which coaching addresses, including the ability to build resilience whist maintaining well-being. The reciprocal nature of the coaching relationship helps individuals to feel supported, build confidence and to deal more easily with the pressures of their role. The space away from daily work and time for them to reflect effectively with an impartial sounding board (as opposed to advisor or peer) provides an opportunity to ‘stand on the balcony’ and take a good look at what is happening in their school.

*Report authors: Professor Rachel Lofthouse & Ruth Whiteside CollectivED at Leeds Beckett University. (Published by Leeds Beckett University, January 2020). https://www.integritycoaching.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/Sustaining-a-Vital-Profession-Final-Report.pdf

MENTAL TOUGHNESS AND MEASURING IMPACT

Benchmarking and measuring success

As a relatively new concept in leadership development contexts, there is a fairly small amount of information on monitoring success.  Coaching, by definition, is intangible and it can be difficult to demonstrate clear change which is attributable to coaching.  Businesses use ‘Return on Capital Employed’ (ROCE) which can show hard indicators like spend related to profit, but in recent years psychologists and leaders have brought in the idea of using cultural, social or human capital as measures for the more intangible interventions in organisations.  More recently we have become aware of the importance of emotional intelligence and the clear link here to emotional capital provides us with the means to look more objectively at the effect that coaching is having.

For this programme we benchmark Mental Toughness (resilience) by using a well- researched psychometric – MTQ Plus – and comparing results at the start of the programme with those seen at the close.

Emotional Capital and Mental Toughness

Daniel Goleman, a leading thinker on emotional intelligence, is a psychologist whose book ‘Emotional Intelligence: Why it can Matter More than IQ’, brings this theme to the mainstream.

He describes five attributes of emotional intelligence which include:

– self-awareness (recognising our own emotions and their effects)

– self-regulation (emotional control, adaptation)

– social skill (interpersonal relationships)

– empathy (understanding others and decision-making)

– self-motivation (drive and enthusiasm)

These attributes relate very closely to the work on mental toughness and resilience that we are using as a framework for this coaching programme. In particular, the links to life and emotional control and to self-confidence (esteem) are clear.

The MTQ Plus questionnaire focusses on these themes (see section on MTQ Plus) and therefore help us to develop a relevant benchmark and exit point to see how the team develops over the period of the coaching programme.

Whilst it would be rewarding to think that any change is down to coaching, we need to take a realistic view and weave this in with the external factors which are particularly potent this year, (2020/21).  In particular we need to consider:

  • The shock of the pandemic
  • The loss of school-year milestones
  • The requirement to change all practices quickly
  • The use of technology
  • Individual flexibility and role changes
  • Managing the unknown
  • Planning for the unknown
  • Loss of local control

The coaching conversations focus on day to day challenges, but each coachee creates specific actions or elements of learning from each session and identifies how that will move into real impact for their work and therefore for the children in the school.

Summary

Coaching as a development tool is focussed on individual needs (bespoke), facilitative (develops an ability to self-motivate and improve accountability), and it encourages reflection.  It also provides a ‘safe space’ in a busy and fast-changing environment, allowing individuals to stand back and take a more objective and strategic view of their working world.

Equestrians: Schooling – how can we stay motivated?

By | Coaching and Mentoring, Sports coaching

Where:  Zoom chat

When: Monday 22nd February 2021, 7pm

Join us to get with some tips on how to regain your mojo for schooling

  • Are you feeling aimless in your schooling?
  • Always thinking of reasons to go and hack or do something other than ride in the school?
  • Feeling guilty that you aren’t doing more in lockdown?
  • Wondering if keeping horses is just about mud and mucking out?

If so, the good news is…You are not alone!

First things first: this session is FREE!  – £0.00

We are all having a tough time and I’ve had lots of people supporting me, so I’m trying to ‘pay this forward’.

Second, it isn’t a lecture!

Grab a coffee/wine/gin/cookies/chips/chocolate and join us to share your tips on how to keep schooling interesting when we have so little that we can plan on doing with our horses at the moment.

HOW DO YOU BOOK?

Please register by e-mailing [email protected].  I’ll send you a link, but please don’t share it with anyone: first come first served and I’m limiting places to 15 so that we can have a useful conversation.  Thank you.

QUIETLY CONFIDENT – a four week course to help you really enjoy riding your horse

By | Coaching and Mentoring, Sports coaching

This Autumn we are stepping out of the norm and creating a course which includes Zoom lessons linked to practical lessons.  We’ll discuss technical ideas on a Monday night and then put our learning into practice on the Wednesday evening.  There’s a discount for signing up to the full course, or you can book on a week by week basis – whatever is easiest.

Alison Payne will be using modern approaches to learning to help you discover practical ways to get the most out of your time with your equine friend.

 

Each week has a Monday evening Zoom discussion for 30-40 minutes, then a Wednesday evening session in the indoor school at Park Dressage, Goytre

Course cost: £110 for all eight sessions or £28 for one week (one Zoom and one  lesson)

Certificate for completing all eight sessions

WEEK ONE: GET AN EXTRA 4% IN YOUR DRESSAGE TEST

Zoom: 7pm Mon 5th Oct, Lesson: 5, 6 or 7pm Wed 7th  Oct

It’s easier than you think! Find out about the rules for competing and discover what the judge really wants to see

WEEK TWO RIDE GREAT SCHOOL MOVEMENTS

Zoom: 7pm Mon 19th Oct, Lesson: 5,6 or 7pm Wed 21st Oct

Ride accurate circles, centre-lines and test movements to up your competition marks and develop your training to the next level

WEEK  THREE COMMUNICATE BETTER WITH YOUR HORSE

Zoom  Mon 2nd Nov, Lesson Wed 4th Nov

Improve your communication with your horse : learn how to channel your aids effectively for balance and connection

WEEK FOUR : CHANGING GEAR—TRANSITIONS

Zoom: 7pm Mon 16th Nov, Lesson: 5, 6 or 7pm Wed 18th Nov

Learn what makes a good transition and  discover why they are a foundation for so much more …..

All sessions are NO PRESSURE. Ideal for  YOUNG or green horses, NERVOUS riders or NEW PARTNERSHIPS.

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s Enjoy Our Horses – Making the Most of Darker, Longer Evenings in 2020

By | Sports coaching

This Autumn and Winter, we will once again be at Amanda Leaker’s lovely indoor school on Wednesday evenings.  The sessions are no-pressure, sociable evenings designed for confidence-building and setting a firm foundation so that you can come out of Winter ready to enjoy long hacks, fun rides, dressage competitions or riding club activities as soon as the weather allows.

Alison Payne uses modern coaching and learning theories to help you discover how to get the most out of the time with your equine partner.

Focussing on confidence-building and building a firm foundation for your future, this series is ideal for green horses, nervous riders, new partnerships or people just wanting to get out over the Winter.

The Philosophy for these lessons is:

¨ No pressure

¨ Leave with a smile

¨ Celebrate small achievements

¨ No pace too slow

¨ Be sociable

¨ No question too silly

In short: enjoy yourself while you learn

Sessions are every Wednesday in the indoor school at Park Dressage, Goytre NP4 0AL starting from September 23rd,  5pm, 6pm and 7pm

Lessons are £25 per person with 2 or three per group

Flatwork pole-work or jumping

 

 

 

 

Learning in the Time of Covid-19 (how we can distil the great things we’ve done since March)

By | Coaching and Mentoring, Education, Leadership Toolbox, Personal Development

Not another leadership lecture

Against a backdrop of constant change, deep uncertainty and a fair dose of fear, we have all had to adapt like never before.  I’m not here to preach; but I want to celebrate amazing creativity, innovation, determination and a group of people who have taken on new roles, people who have come together as teams and who have discovered things that they didn’t know they could do.

As a coach – most often in a leadership environment – I am working with individuals who are on a ‘leadership journey’.  This means that references to classic leadership tools, guru’s statements and all the well-known instructions for success are familiar.  We all have to learn, but there is little doubt that reflective and experiential learning is the most powerful way to embed our knowledge for effective future action.

What I have seen recently in my coaching conversations is powerful.

This is culture

“This is how we do things around here”.

Sound familiar? Just Google Culture or Organisational Culture Change and you can soon be overwhelmed.  I’m going to hazard a guess that in the next six months or so we will be even more awash with solutions and ways of bringing about swift culture change.  I’m also going to suggest that in six months time the bandwagon will not be seen for dust.  Don’t get me wrong, the essence of culture change will be similar: 1. look at what you have; 2. Look at what you want; 3. Design something new; 4. Share it with everyone (at which point I am, I confess, rolling my eyes as this needs to be number ONE); 5. Check the new is in line with values and visions and what you really want; 6. Implement and keep under review. So, maybe not so different.  But just read on to see how people in education are living and succeeding at change.

What WILL be different is the speed at which it can happen.

I found a nice piece in Forbes (https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidrock/2019/05/24/fastest-way-to-change-culture/#734ecf243d50, Thank you David Rock) where there is a suggestion that almost all organisations are thinking about a change in culture, but worryingly less than 20% of employees think they are up for it.  Dr Rock talks about a model PHS – Priorities, Habits, Systems, which has been tried and tested and which he believes can effect a real difference in nine months.

Nine?  We have just had three and a bit and look where we are now!!

So what happened?

What has just happened?!

What has just happened is that we have been forced to rethink our priorities, change our habits and use new systems in order to get work done.

Let’s think about this in the context of education, as this is where almost all my coaching conversations have been in the last three months.  I’m working with Senior leaders – Executive Heads, Head Teachers, Deputies and Section leads across academy trusts.  They have been busy, really busy since lockdown, and although many of them are tired, I am not seeing the same overwhelming exhaustion that many have near the end of term or a school year. This is about how they have had to juggle an array of different things.

Suddenly their staffing was diminished, with people shielding or self-isolating. Suddenly, the role looked more like child-care than education as they allowed other key workers to do their jobs. Suddenly they lost face to face contact, not just with colleagues, but importantly with the children.  This wasn’t just about the children’s learning, it was about their well-being. Suddenly, the communication with parents changed. Suddenly the way that lessons and learning were delivered had to change. And this meant that the feedback to children had to change.

Did our wonderful teachers give up? Did they down tools? Oh no. There was no choice, change was upon us all.

Priorities

If I had to construct a word cloud around education, I think that ‘Ofsted’, ‘Data’, ‘SATs’ would loom large. We have to be able to see how a school is faring because our next generations deserve to head into the world with the best chances we can give them, but the line between measuring what is done and doing what needs to be done gets shaky.

All of a sudden the priorities changed.  It wasn’t about what Ofsted were going to say, it was about how the children were going to get the education they needed and how vulnerable families would be supported through education.

All at once, people’s roles changed, they were geographically separated and we immediately lost a common communication method.  The ‘quick question’, the ‘door-stepping’ in the corridor, the ‘tea-room’ conversations: gone at a swipe.

Virtual meetings changed all this.  Availability changed, planning changed (and, as an aside, aren’t we all much better at writing shopping lists now?), focus changed.

So what actually happened to our priorities? Working from home has provided some interesting insights as well as challenges. The reduced interruptions have meant clearer thought pathways, the ability to see more of the family (no commute time and short breaks stroking the dog or hanging out washing maybe?) have highlighted family life.  Has the work still got done? Yes, albeit different work.  People are telling me that they have identified (tangibly) the priorities that really matter. Dr Rock called them ‘sticky’ (I like this, it describes them completely).  Because the individuals have identified new priorities for themselves they will be memorable and have shown themselves to be feasible (certainly at present).

Priorities have shifted from the day to day, from the data and measurement of what is being done, to actually making the schools safe places for key worker children and to providing home-learning for others.

Many schools have been providing food parcels and support in their communities and have been getting to know and understand them better.  Communication with parents has been different, (phone, not ‘at the school gate’), but focussed on the families.

Habits

Habits or ways of working become comfortable, ingrained and easy to continue – which is why change is tough.  It takes effort and it can also be worrying. Psychologists will tell us that the best way to change a habit is to do something we haven’t done before.  This feels uncomfortable so our default is often to stay the same.  In his book ‘Rip it Up’, Richard Wiseman asks us to rip pages from the book as we work through it.  He was spot on when he predicted that I was saying ‘noooooo’.  Who tears up a book? This is it in a nutshell, even if something is harmless, it can feel very un-nerving to do it if it is out of our normal sphere of action.

And what’s happened in this pandemic?

Habits have had to change, overnight.  Completely. All those little communications, the way we plan (no certainty these days!), the way that feedback goes to children on their work, (the way that marking disappeared?), the way we would commute, work late, separate home and work.  We’ve all had to embrace technology.  Online lessons, online meetings, shared documents, meetings at unusual times.  Not all of these things are advantageous, but we’ve seen seismic shifts in habit.

On the whole, the people I have been coaching have worked right through, many with no Easter holiday or half term and although exams are not going to be missed in some ways there are some serious milestones which have disappeared.  The importance of these was raised by one Head Teacher and reminds me of how important these things are. It is easy enough to lose track of which day it is when routine disappears and even that feels strange.  It is uncomfortable and a sign that we need some kind of stability in our lives.

Systems

Systems help us to achieve things and allow us to work from a framework or with new infrastructure.

How many of us really wanted to have so many virtual meetings?  Why didn’t we do it before? Why was it that we didn’t set up that shared document system to speed up reviewing? Why did we always assume that meetings had to be at certain times? That feedback had to be done in a certain way? That communication, if not face to face, could be left?

Systems have had to change too, in order to accommodate the new ways of working and our shifting priorities.

How has this all made a difference to schools?

Again, from the Priorities/Habits/Systems model, we hear that experience of insights to new culture will engender strong motivation.  All change leaders urge us to talk about it all the time – and who hasn’t recently? We are told that to reach our goals and achieve the ambition for our organisation, we have to have a shared vision.  Never has this been seen more practically than now. We have to LIVE our culture. LIVE our priorities.

I’m not telling you this as a leadership coach, this is what senior leaders in education have been saying to me.

“We (the team) are working so well together.  The cohesion and collaboration is really good”

“Phoning the parents has been great, we’ve started to understand each other so much better”

“We all know what we are aiming for”

“Everyone has been so flexible.  We have different roles, but we are still getting everything done”

“I know that I really need to see my own children in the evenings”

“We are finding ways to give feedback to the children”

“I’m loving the ‘child-care element’, but I’m looking forward to really teaching again and seeing all the children”

“People are less overwhelmed and they are willing to get stuck in”

There are stories of teachers and LSAs coming in to redecorate, to build outdoor class-rooms, to develop things for the children’s return, there is a sense of achievement, success in challenging times, creativity and innovation.  There is lots of kindness, there is trust and delegation because people are working remotely.

And in future?

The reason that I believe we can make lasting change is that this has all been tangible, it has been experiential and although the change itself was outside our control, we have all made our own changes so that we could get on with what we do.  Our Senior leaders in education have been showing all the things that leadership gurus tell us we need for good leadership and effective organisations. They have been living their visions, defining their values, understanding their priorities and learning how to communicate effectively.

Finally, I want to say a huge thank you to all of the people I have coached in the last few months, and from whom I have taken inspiration, because they have all demonstrated all the important qualities and behaviours that we are going to need for the next phase. They have learned and reflected and this is what can help us to bottle this all up into the Positive Vibes bottle and carry it on into next year.

I take my hat off to you all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Being OK and Not being OK – are we treading a thin line?

By | Coaching and Mentoring, Personal Development

There are a few themes that come up in coaching conversations on a regular basis and one of these is about ‘being OK’.

Coaching, by its very nature can be quite searching, but talking about things which are difficult is cathartic: by ordering our thoughts to say them aloud we are already on the first step to identifying the crux of our problems.

One of the things which I miss by coaching virtually is the ability to share drawings and ideas on paper and it is this which has prompted me to create something that I can share.

If we’ve sat down to go through some of your challenges and map a way onwards, it is quite possible that we have already talked about my idea that we can narrow our ‘wobble-makers’ down to just three areas of our lives.  It may be rather simplistic, but it has always served as a good starting point for identifying hotspots of trouble and where to start putting them right.

This graphic isn’t quite the same as the way that I have drawn it in the past, but I think it works better like this.  So, what am I talking about?

First, let’s consider that we have three areas of our lives, Home, Work and Health.  The three are inextricably linked and as such each one can affect the others.  For example, Home includes such things as hobbies, family friends and so on, Work will be things like workload, change, dealing with people, specific projects and Health can be as small as a cold or as major as a life-changing diagnosis.

The next thing to bear in mind that this is all relative – coping and managing is not the same as feeling amazing and doing brilliantly, but we live on a continuum so it is really about managing to function effectively.  After all, every one of us has good days and bad days, so expecting to feel good all the time isn’t reasonable.  Not exactly a SMART objective, I suppose.  Conversely, if we feel bad all the time, then that isn’t right either – something is out of balance.

Third, let’s try to make the graphic work for us.  Imagine, if you will, that work is going smoothly,

things at home are swinging along in a nice routine and you are feeling well.  Life is fine, isn’t it? The three elements are working together to keep you afloat and it’s all working as it should. We’ll make allowances for things that aren’t quite perfect, because we are in a good position to manage them and to maintain a good perspective.

If, however, something creates a bump in our road in one area, that immediately makes other things a bit more challenging.  Consider a bad time at work because a client has complained and you have to deal with it over the next week.  As long as you are feeling well and you can go home and enjoy going for a run, you will generally deal with the work challenge well enough. Agreed, it isn’t fun, but you’ll cope.  Now add in a twisted ankle or a headache – nothing major, but suddenly you don’t have the facility to go and get your proper white space, your down time and the work problem may seem worse.  We start to struggle; we don’t quite have the energy that we need to do things;  that all important grip on perspective is slipping.    Do you see what I mean? Things start to become more fragile altogether.  A bad day can give you a headache which can make you irritable or withdrawn maybe – then all three areas start to be affected.

As I mentioned at the start, these things don’t have to be huge in themselves, but if other things are going wrong, they will probably feel much worse.

Of course, if the bump in the road turns out to be a major landslip, then this stability will become fragile more quickly and it will be much harder to reinstate a happy balance.  This is why, for example, self-care is so important: if work is tough, then you need to guard family and health with vigour.  If your home life is wobbly (children leaving home maybe? Missing GCSEs?) then work and your health are crucial areas to cherish.  Draw your strength from the things that are going well.

Another important point is to remember that we cannot always change the things we want to.  It could be a health issue, a lost job, difficulties at home – these could well initiate change that isn’t going away.  This makes life hard, but to an extent accepting the change helps to improve things.  Reduce friction by going along with what is happening so that you can mould something useful for yourself.  It doesn’t mean it’s easy or pleasant, it doesn’t mean you need to sacrifice your own moral values or beliefs, but taking this constructive stance helps to give you back some element of control in your own life, and that is a big first step.

This simple idea has worked for many of my coaching clients and  I’d be interested to see what you think and how it might work for you.

Oh, and as I write we are still in Coronavirus Lockdown in Wales, so this is very real for lots of us.  Change in all three areas, all at once… Take care out there and look after yourselves.

I’ll post the graphic in the resources page of the website, so you can see it there too.

Sport and Mental Health Awareness

By | Coaching and Mentoring, Personal Development, Sports coaching

LEARNING SOMETHING NEW

We have all found changes in our lives during lockdown and many of us are finding time to slow down, think and consider things which might never have made it to the top of our ‘to-do’ list in normal times.

I have been enjoying connecting with coaches from a wide range of sports (away from my own area of equestrianism) and I’m learning lots and thinking more creatively.

One of the benefits has been access to new courses and as it is Mental Health Awareness Week 2020 (18th to 24th May) I thought I would take the course offered by UK Sport on Mental Health Awareness for Sport and Physical Activity.

As a coach in non-sport environments too, this is a subject which comes very close to my work at all times, so it has been valuable to gain a little more understanding.  One of my key learning points is that we can talk about mental health without being counsellors; just as in all my coaching work, it is a question of understanding where boundaries lie and where people can go for expert help when someone needs it.

 

A BIT ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH

Our minds can fall ill, just as our bodies can. The illness may be short or long term. It can vary in severity. It can have different causes and diverse symptoms. Importantly, it doesn’t define who we are, it’s just a small part of our identity or our history.

The World Health Organisation says: ‘ Mental Health is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to contribute to her or his community’.

Mind’s (the Mental Health Charity) ‘5 ways to well-being’ are a set of actions that we can all take to improve our well-being:

  • Connect – talk to people, meet people
  • Be active – start or continue exercise
  • Learn – goal-setting can highlight achievements
  • Take notice – be mindful, notice all the good things or achievements, however small
  • Give – do things for others, it feels good

WHY ARE WE LINKING SPORT AND MENTAL HEALTH?

Mind believes that, ‘Sport and physical activity builds resilience, enables and supports mental health recovery and tackles stigma’.

Many of us who are already active will know that we feel better for a bit of ‘fresh air and exercise’. There are physical reasons for it though, it isn’t just some random idea. The biochemistry behind it is a longish story, but in brief, neuropeptides called endorphins are released from the pituitary gland and go to block pain signals in the nervous system. This indirectly causes the release of dopamine which is the neurotransmitter responsible for pleasure. (You can find more on Wikipedia or in the article cited below*).  So – exercise makes us feel good.

How can exercise help? Here are a few things to ponder:

  • Endorphins – our natural, intrinsic ‘opiates’, make us feel better
  • Self-esteem – think body image, goal achievement and improved resilience
  • Reducing the risk of depression – physical and psychological
  • Slowing the racing mind – body and mind become tired
  • Sleep patterns improve – serotonin levels are better after exercise. The reduction of ‘rapid eye movement or REM sleep has an anti-depressant effect.

A study by the Department of Health (2011) found that increasing from no exercise to just three times a week lead to the likelihood of depression falling by 30%.

And this is just the start!

TAKING ACTION, BEING ACTIVE

There is still a stigma around mental health and Mind describe a cycle to break the stigma which means that we need to learn about it, listen to people, be open to what they are saying and recognise the illness for what it is.

From a sports and coaching perspective, we also need to understand some of the possible barriers that exist to getting active.  The ‘Four Corners Model’ put together by the Football Association,  (http://www.thefa.com/learning/coaching/the-fas-4-corner-model) is a framework that can help us to look at how we develop our sports people.  In the context of mental health and physical activity, it can be used to create an understanding of barriers to exercise.   This could also be used in the preparation of specific programmes or sessions and helps us to see our clients from a holistic perspective.

  • Physical – travel, medication for example
  • Social – lack of self-esteem
  • Psychological – anxiety in new situation
  • Technical – not knowing the rules of the game or lacking skill or experience

It’s helpful to understand this and it underlines some of the things that we can do to help. I can think of examples in equestrianism, but also in other sports or forms of exercise. Sometimes the barriers are greater than others, sometimes they look bigger because facing them and dealing with them just seems insurmountable. It might be that small first step onto our own personal Everest ascent.

…AND SO?

“As coaches we are there to enable other people to achieve their goals”

It is all too easy to wrapped up in our way of working and of coaching, so the opportunity to think differently brings new ideas and new plans.  Having been unable to go out coaching since lockdown, it has been great to ‘meet’ coaches from sports as varied as football, squash, paddle and adventure sports, and many others.  The group coming together through UK Coaching has inspired me and reminded me that ‘coaching is coaching’, we are there to enable other people to achieve their goals.

Thank you all.

Here is the article that I mentioned:

Other useful links:

https://www.ukcoaching.org/

https://www.mind.org.uk/

https://dynamics-coaching.com/

Please follow us on Twitter – lots to mention but @alisonrpayne will get you started

 

Coaching conversations: Being Worried

By | Coaching and Mentoring, Leadership Toolbox, Personal Development

Leadership and Personal Coaching – topics from coaching conversations

After many hundreds of hours coaching, I see some repeating themes, so I’m hoping that this series of info sheets will add a little background to conversations that I’ve had, or will provide a start point if you are thinking about having coaching.

Circles of Concern and of Influence

We all worry about ‘stuff’. It’s a normal, human thing to do. The problem comes when it overtakes our lives. It is also a fact that some people worry more than others and some people are more proactive when it comes to dealing with the things that life is throwing at them.

We can look at this in a number of ways, but essentially it is about understanding how we perceive this ‘stuff’ and deal with it for ourselves.

One way to start unpicking this is to look at circles of concern and circles on influence as described by Stephen R. Covey (in his book, the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People).  Within the circle of concern are the things about which we have little emotional or mental connection and/or the things which we cannot control. Within the circle of influence lie the things that we can make a difference to and which we can affect by our own actions in some way.

Separating these two types of ‘stuff’ is a good start in understanding and then changing how we approach the things that cause us worry.

As an example, change is a big topic, but you’ll probably already know that being in control of change makes things feel more comfortable than when we are subject to changes made by others. Being proactive, rather than reactive, helps us to gain a better feeling of control and to feel more positive about what is happening with the ‘stuff’ around us.

We can make a start by identifying some of the things on our mind and then placing them into the ‘concern’ or ‘influence’ section. For example, we can’t change the weather, so this would go near the outside edge of the concern circle, but if we are considering what to have for tea, then that sits pretty well into the middle of the influence circle.

Let’s suppose that we are really worried about the big family picnic that we’ve organised for our Aunt’s 70th birthday. We’ll want it to go well, of course. Where does it sit in relation to our circles of concern and influence? That will depend very much on our own approach to ‘stuff’.   A reactive person might fret about the weather, but a proactive person will make a plan B. A reactive person might worry about the caterer getting the order right. A proactive person will check the order and communicate with the caterer to see how preparations are going.

In this way, the reactive person keeps all their concerns out there as concerns, but the proactive person is bringing elements into their own influence and effectively increasing the size of the inner circle. (And, at the same time reducing the size of the concern element by taking back some control over ‘stuff’).

There’s more to it than this, but it is one tool in our armoury and something which arises in coaching conversations from time to time and which might help to separate things out from a different perspective. I hope it’s useful.

ALISON

April 2020 in sunny South Wales