How often are we asked what our values are? It is a common leadership and organisational question. The trouble is, if we are caught on the spot, we are unlikely to identify our values clearly.
Recently I was invited to run a workshop where we planned to look at the personal values of the leadership team and see how closely they matched the organisational values. As always, I did some research and came up with no fewer than 150 words which might be used to describe ‘values’. Unsurprisingly there is plenty of cross-over in the list, but this highlighted the fact that we just don’t define our values closely enough.
So why do we need to see this detail?
If we can agree that the best teams and organisations have matching values, then we are likely to see a more cohesive and easily developed culture. When we have to keep adjusting our values to fit in with an organisation that has a different world-view, we can probably cope for a while, but there will inevitably be friction or stress further down the line – and this isn’t helpful for anyone.
In coaching conversations, my question, ‘What are your top three personal values?’, generally elicits some version of ‘honesty’, ‘fairness’ and ‘respect’. We need to be much clearer on our own values and there are a number of ways in which this can be achieved.
As a coach, I’ll take a Socratic approach here and challenge the person being questioned with open-ended questions that are going to encourage them to reflect. We will explore the ideas of their first-stated values with questions that clarify and challenge their statement. We’ll seek the reasons and evidence for their choice and look for other ideas. It isn’t about being ‘Devil’s Advocate’, more about looking for alternative perspectives and conditions.
It is important, in this conversation, to bring the values to life, remove them from the esoteric world and put them firmly into day to day situations. For example, what did ‘honesty’ look like at work yesterday? How did it relate to truth or justice, or maybe to quality or empathy. How was it different from integrity? How does it link with fairness? Once this starts to be unpicked, we gain glimpses into those other 149 words that describe values and we can use this filter to create a much more refined definition of honesty.
Another way to unpick values is to consider what really upsets you (what makes you shout at the TV, or inwardly growl when you see particular events), or, what makes you shout with joy and excitement.
I had a slightly unnerving experience of this just yesterday and it has really made me stop and think.
Every year, I have planted a few more daffodil bulbs along the hedge near our horse’s paddock. I planted them because I absolutely adore these wonderful bright, yellow, heralds of spring and we are lucky in Wales to have so many that blossom as we head out of grey Winter days. I also think it’s nice for other people to see them, so it’s a shared thing and that is why they are in the hedgerow visible to anyone passing. If I didn’t want to share the joy, I could put them where other people won’t see them. But I love doing it. It’s a bit of work, a bit of money, but the reward is huge. Yesterday I arrived to see someone picking some of these daffodils, and my immediate thoughts were dreadful. How dare you pick these daffodils? How dare you take them when I put something there for everyone to enjoy? How dare you……. The more reasonable reaction is to want to explain why it’s a bad idea to go around picking flowers, not to accuse someone of doing something terrible. So what has this to do with values?
I was cross because I had created something that not only can I enjoy, but also other people, and that had been violated. Clearly, I feel that it is important to share, be generous in heart and practice. Nature can be beautiful in a sometimes horrible World, so there there is a spiritual tale to be told here too. I would probably have upset the woman terribly by simply shouting at her, and what does that achieve? So maybe, just maybe I have another value which shows through here and that is that I like people. I hate upsetting people. I want to be kind. All these thoughts jumbling in my head and screaming that my values are actually very clear.
So if you’re thinking about values, if somebody comes to you in a leadership workshop and asks, ‘What are your values?’, don’t just say, honesty, integrity and fairness. Give it some thought, think about what might make you cross, what gets you so viscerally moved that you can feel your emotion, feel your values.
This is how you identify the things that really really matter to you.
I’m part way through running a Coaching Skills for Leaders in Education’ and, as always when I have to deliver or share information, it makes me think and review my own practice. The group that I am working with are wonderfully engaged and curious and this means that when we reflect together we are coming up with some processes and ideas around coaching that are bespoke for their working world. We made some notes on contracting as well as how we use coaching, so I thought it might be interesting for other people who are considering how coaching fits into daily work.
First:The introduction We discussed how the coachee was going to come to you. Being offered the opportunity to have some coaching is one thing, to be sent for coaching might feel completely different. We need to remember that coaching is fundamentally a supportive intervention and must not be remedial or punitive. It is, however, developmental – there is a subtle difference.
Next: Setting up the meeting The first meeting needs to be a ‘chemistry conversation’. This is an opportunity for you and your (potential) coachee to see if you can get on easily and to decide whether it will be a fruitful match. Covering basic facts at this stage means that you can start your first ‘real’ coaching conversation swiftly and get going on meaningful work without any hindrance.
This group also wanted to discuss how we use a coaching approach without formal meetings: in essence how we are able to support individuals to find their own route through specific problems that might arise on a day to day basis. The beauty of this is that we can encourage people to stand on their own feet, find answers and explore safely to implement their own solutions.
Third: A few general tips ✓ Remember to set up the room (tables, chairs, lighting) so that you can work with good body language. ✓ Remember not to ‘collude’, show empathy rather than sympathy. ✓ Remember to let the coachee lead the conversation: if it is difficult to get started, then use a narrative approach and build rapport. Maybe ask them to talk about their week? Their weekend? ✓ Make sure that you have prepared beforehand and that you both have time. There is little worse than having to stop the conversation at a crucial point!
Finally: Coaching contract – the ground rules Ideally these should be set by both coach and coachee together, but experience tells me that it isn’t always that easy. To start with, it is important to identify any assumptions (it’s confidential isn’t it?) and to make sure that you both have the same, clear understanding of how your conversations will go. You may need to prompt your coachee with some possibilities to get started.
Remember – you need to build a comfortable environment of trust, rapport and ease. Here are a few things that you may want to cover: Confidentiality Safe-space, what ‘confidential’ means to each of you, elements which may not be confidential or which you may need to share (serious issues, safeguarding, immoral or illegal behaviour. Decide and state how you will deal with this if it should arise). Booking and planning meetings Contact details, missed appointments, emergencies, where and how you will meet, length of meetings, making changes. Note-taking Notes that you take, what you will share, how you will safeguard privacy Interruptions Creating the quiet time and space for a high-quality, focussed conversation. Openness, frankness and boundaries of comfortable conversation What will you ask? What won’t you ask? What are you both comfortable with? Stopping the conversation. Postponements. Emotions. Declaration of interest Are there any conflicts? Family, friends or professional relationships which might affect the openness and psychological safety’ that you need to develop? Being non-judgemental Not there to give advice, judge or provide the answers. Essentially we are facilitating the coachee to find answers for themselves. Holding to account, telling, shifting boundaries You may want to discuss how you’ll help your coachee to keep their commitment to action, or to share your own experience. Be clear on how you’ll do this.
It would be great to hear what you would add to this brief ‘get started’ list.
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….’
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!!
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
My coach Supervisor laughs at the notes that I take in some of my coaching conversations because so many include drawings: What does this cat remind you of? Draw your day? Johari Windows and Freeze/thaw/freeze pictures and doodles which would only be comprehensible to me and the person being coached.
I have always been loathe to coach via a computer because I thought I’d miss out on the nuances of body language and the easy sharing of written ideas, thoughts and notes.
However, we are at a place where virtual meetings are becoming more normal and are likely to stay with us for far more than the occasional Skype conversation with distant family. (By the way, if you want to make those really good fun, then switch on the subtitles!). The whole idea is going to bring a new set of 21st Century social rules, so here are a few thoughts from my experiences so far.
As we all set out into our new virtual world, there is no doubt that the technology will be one of the big challenges (and we won’t all have a five year old to hand to sort it all out like the TV). It (almost) goes without saying that you’ll need decent broadband speeds and a computer running modern Software.
There is a lot out there and much is free, but, as my Cyber Security expert friend reminds me, if the product is free then there is a strong chance that YOU are the product. Be careful and watch out for updates, news and support around security, follow basic rules around cyber-safety and consider what you share very carefully.
b) What’s out there?
I’m no expert on the different pieces of software but have used GoTo meeting, Cisco’s Webex, Zoom, Skype, WhatsApp, Facetime. There are others including MS Teams and, plenty more I’m sure. Check out their websites for their plans, pricing and ways of working. Talk to other people about ease of use, scope and what seems to work well for them.
c) Try out the different apps.
See what works well for you – for example things like the phone apps are OK for 1:1 conversations, but it is awful trying to have a serious conversation with someone when they keep wandering around and lose their audio or show you videos which give you the opportunity to examine their nostrils. (Ugh). Zoom works well, but is very busy at present so bandwidth has been a challenge at times and their security in chats was questioned by National Newspapers recently. Skype is fairly straightforward to use, but the video quality is variable. (I struggle to find all the settings easily on the mobile app).
Try your chosen system/systems in non-critical conversations with family, friends or close colleagues. Play with the settings and see what you can achieve. It’s worth doing it pretty much daily while we all get more used to working like this. Even complex job interviews are being carried out virtually so it is really important to be familiar with the technology so that you can focus on WHAT you are saying, not HOW you are saying it. After all, we don’t have to think hard about talking in an interview, which means that we can focus on the content of our conversation.
Tips and wrinkles – setting up and getting started
I’ve had to do some thinking, researching and training so some of these tips have come from there, some from my own experience.
Practice. Make sure the software is loaded and you know how to access your meeting / call.
Always have your mobile handy and share this with your meeting organiser so that if technology has a blip then you can text or call to sort things out.
Make sure you are somewhere comfortable! Get a coffee or glass of water in case you need refreshing during the discussion.
Set up your device to provide the best audio you can and video so that the light is coming from the right direction and doesn’t make you look like a being from a sci-fi movie. (Oddly, having light directly in front of you (i.e. behind the device) usually works well.
Consider your background. Some software allows you to blur the background or add a virtual one.
‘Arrive’ in good time. You can be sure that if you leave it until the last minute, you will have a software glitch or the laptop will want to update or run a security scan and gobble up time and memory.
Tips and wrinkles – social niceties
Some of our social rules won’t change, but for some reason seem to get ‘lost’ as people move to a virtual world. We also have new ones that will make sure we can work collaboratively and effectively.
Be presentable. There seems to be a more ‘heads than threads’ approach online, but it is just as important to create a good impression virtually as it would be in person. In truth, it might be even more important as we might miss out on some of the smaller signals that we get about people when we meet face to face.
Be punctual. You can’t creep into a virtual meeting like you do to a room full of people! If you do come late then it will be noticeable and can be disruptive.
As host, make sure that introductions are made where appropriate and try to welcome people as they arrive. This creates a positive feeling and also acts as a form of introduction.
Make sure that there is a clear agenda. One of the downsides of virtual meetings is that discussion has to be more clear cut and it isn’t always easy to spot who wants to say something. In a room, there will be some form of ‘intention gesture’ that can be picked up on by the host – not always so easy in a virtual room. A good agenda will help to focus everyone in the same direction and support input from those who need to give it.
Turn mobiles to silent once the meeting starts).
Shut children, pets and family out – they can be an unwanted distraction. There are times when they might add a personal dimension to the discussion, but make sure it is for an appropriate audience.
Follow the host’s instructions on audio and video, but generally it is good practice to mute your microphone unless you are making a comment to the meeting. (Failing to do this creates sometimes unbearable noise for everyone else).
Engage. Your hosts might be fairly new to all this too.
As host, it might be useful to have a co-host who watches chat boxes to pick up on relevant input that needs to be shared.
Look at the camera – we are used to looking at the face of someone that we are talking to, but on a laptop this might mean that you are looking at your colleague over their shoulder.
A couple of other thoughts
Have a think about what might distract you in a virtual meeting and try to manage it so that you can focus on the conversation. The kind of things which people report as distracting are:
What they look like, what their colleagues look like (how’s my hair looking three weeks into lockdown?!), are my bookshelves tidy? What is that on their wallpaper? Shall I just answer that incoming e mail? Am I using the technology properly? And so on….
This is just a quick blog, so I’d love to hear your hints and tips for effective meetings over the internet!
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.
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?
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?”
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.