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.
This poor freshwater goldfish is about to leap into the sea and although the water might look similar to his current environment, it will be fatal for him.
I was privileged to speak at the inaugural South Wales DisruptHR event last night, beautifully organised by Insight. Preparing for the presentation caused me to make a serious pause and consider how taking a new perspective can challenge our thinking.
This is how it goes….
We are constantly told to ‘push the envelope’, ‘step outside our comfort zone’, ‘define stretch objectives’. We exist in working and living environments that are constantly challenging us to do more, work smarter, be more productive, change, take on new responsibilities, grow and develop on a personal as well as professional level. This can be exhausting and it can be stressful.
Let me rewind for a moment and put this to you: the commonest requests for help through my coaching conversations revolve around confidence and self-belief.
You can NOT hand out confidence and self-belief to people, but you CAN take it away.
I could talk or write for ages on why this is so and draw on examples from sport as well as from organisations and work. Perhaps more helpfully, here I will offer some ideas that’ll help you to make a start in understanding how you can develop confidence and self-belief. (And let’s be honest, if we have those two amazing attributes, then the world is our oyster isn’t it?)
So, why stay in your comfort zone?
First – it is safe. You know what you are doing, you can run on auto-pilot and life is relatively predictable.
Second – if you can run on auto, this will give you space and time to think and reflect on what is good, what you enjoy, what you are good at, and to see what opportunities are available.
Third – you can be the expert. You can do what you do well and continue to be good at it. The trick here is to use the space you have created from familiarity and ease to recognise that you are good at certain things.
Fourth – ask yourself how you came to be expert. Did you plan this from the outset? Did you take opportunities that arose? How far have you come? Did you expect to be at this point now?
Standing on the Cantilever Stone
Fifth – which are the things that make you happiest? What are the things that bring you joy?
Sixth – is this YOUR choice? If not, then whose is it and why? What more do YOU want?
If you can answer all those questions and truly reflect on all the things you do well, then you might start to look at opportunities that aren’t available to you yet. You have confidence in what you are already doing and if you decide to move onto new plans then you can take that with you and build on it at your own pace. (Just as you have done in the past to get to today).
So, don’t hurry out of your comfort zone – use it to embrace all that you are now. Enjoy and celebrate what you can do and how far you have already come. Then and only then, you (and only you) can decide on what you want to do next. You are prepared to take steps outside your comfort zone.
Only leave your comfort zone when You want to
So let’s suggest to the gold fish that he leaps from a small bowl to a larger one – not out into the sea.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
Being locked down gives us all far too much time to think, so I’m not going to philosophise ad infinitum, but I would like to share a couple of very small things which brought me an involuntary smile this morning.
I’m always encouraging people to celebrate their small wins, so here are some small things that I am celebrating.
I just love daffodils. They are my heralds of Spring and bring early brightness to unleafy hedgerows.
They are great in the sunshine as their colour is heightened, but in dull weather they bring light into a grey morning.
In the wind, they bend and sway, but stand up again when the breeze lessens.
I love my chickens. They are all rescues and I’m happy just to see them in a good place. They can free range, and are cheerful in their scratching around the field or the barn – looking for tiny specks of food that I don’t even see. After a horrid fox attack on the outdoor coop, we bought them a garden shed which lives inside the barn now. We put nest boxes and a stepped set of perches in and I get real pleasure from seeing them happy in their little home. They chatter away while I work down there and get under my feet in the most unannoying fashion.
Egg in the nest
Another of the joys of having chickens as pets is that they lay eggs. Even after years of keeping hens, I still smile when I find an egg. If it feels warm I love to feel it against my cheek. A new gift from our feathery girls (and some had no feathers when they came to us) is always valuable. They have perfect nest boxes on their ‘shed-home’, but far prefer to wander around the barn and find a cosy, dark place with soft hay. They’ll sit there and throws bits of nest material over their backs and cosy up into their nest to lay. The challenge for me is finding the latest nest. (The queue of chickens can be a give away – they seem to like to sit in well-used nests!).
Early lettuce seedlings
A further thing that made me smile today was the sight of my lettuce seedlings just pushing up through the compost. Yes, I expected them to grow, but the promise of homegrown salad again is a wonderful feeling: especially when it is still cold outside (even in the greenhouse). These are brave little seedlings, daring to push out into a currently chilly place.
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?