Tag

Coaching

Understanding our values in real time

By | Coaching and Mentoring, Leadership Toolbox, Personal Development

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.

 

Coaching – getting started

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

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.

Never, ever leave your comfort zone

By | Coaching and Mentoring, Personal Development

Poor Goldfish – who knows what’s coming?

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.

What’s on with ARP Equestrian Coaching this Spring?

By | Equestrian, Sports coaching

After two years of struggle (and no clear end in sight) Covid has made life difficult, sad, frustrating and exhausting for just about everyone.  In a spirit of New Year Optimism and in line with the energy with which I see people getting out and about with their horses, I have put together a comprehensive programme of equestrian events for Spring 2022.

We will have:

  • Dressage test riding (how do I get an extra few percent in my test);
  • Polework to develop strength, suppleness and horse-rider coordination;
  • Coaching focus on the rider (how you can ride to get the best ‘conversation with your horse);
  • Coachng focus on the horse (what sort of exercises will most help my horse in his work?);
  • Jumping for nervous or novice horses / riders and a progressive session working on jumping technique.
  • Zoom chats

My aim throughout is for you to be enjoying what you are doing with your horse and helping you to see how you can keep improving even if you have nobody on the ground watching.

Jan 19thFeb 2ndFeb 16thMar 2ndMar 16thMar 30th
Polework
Ground poles for suppleness, strength,coordination5pm7pm5pm7pm5pm5pm
Building confidence over fences
Ground poles  building to small fences focusing on confidence and technique for horse and rider6pm6pm6pm6pm6pm6pm
Jumping gym
Small courses, grids and other exercises (up to about 90cm)7pm5pm7pm5pm7pm7pm

 

Courageous Conversations for Senior Leaders in Schools

By | Coaching and Mentoring, Education, Leadership Toolbox

Difficult conversations, challenging conversations, courageous conversations

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

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

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

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

We worry about conflict

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

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

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

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

What sort of conversation is it?

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

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

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

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

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

Doorstepping and corridor conversations

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

Tips

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

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

Finally…

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

Developing leaders in Education: Why Coaching?

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

Overview

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

THE PROGRAMME

The aims for the programme and coaching practice

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

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

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

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

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

Why coaching rather than formal training?

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

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

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

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

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

MENTAL TOUGHNESS AND MEASURING IMPACT

Benchmarking and measuring success

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

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

Emotional Capital and Mental Toughness

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

He describes five attributes of emotional intelligence which include:

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

– self-regulation (emotional control, adaptation)

– social skill (interpersonal relationships)

– empathy (understanding others and decision-making)

– self-motivation (drive and enthusiasm)

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

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

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

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

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

Summary

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

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

By | Coaching and Mentoring, Personal Development

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coaching conversations: Language

By | Coaching and Mentoring, Sports coaching

I had the good fortune to be pointed in the direction of the UK Coaching Connected Coaches site and today we had a healthy conversation about language.

During lockdown, most of us outdoor coaches are really feeling the lack of contact as well as the lack of fresh air and our chosen sport (or sports).  In true positive fashion though, we are starting to look at how we can work effectively in a virtual social space and to explore the slightly elusive positives of this time.

It is great to be included with people from such a cross-section of sport and for me, it’s also fascinating to see the cross-over with the work that I do as a coach in education and business organisations.

I wasn’t alone in thinking that it might be a time for supporting our clients (sports people or other coaches) in really thinking carefully about what we do, and an esteemed colleague from athletics suggested that one thing that we could work on was being much more careful and specific in the language that we use.

Reflecting on our online conversation I am reminded of the number of times that I’ve gone down the line of ‘why?’.  Now,  Root Cause Analysis or ‘The 5 Whys’ are well known tools in leadership but neither of these quite get to what I am seeking to achieve in coaching.  Nonetheless I believe that they have a part in helping us to understand the value in delving deep into things that we might be just taking at face value, so as  little aside, let’s have a very quick look.

Root Cause Analysis does what it says on the tin and is valuable in itself because it heads for resolution of cause, not just overt symptoms, and is therefore often useful in an organisational environment as it considers:

  • What happened
  • How it happened
  • Why it happened and then
  • Actions for preventing reoccurrence

‘The 5 Whys’ tool is another from that massive Toyota Toolbox which also brought us ‘nemawashi’ – the idea that we need to walk the shop floor to fully understand what is happening (before we can then understand why).  It can get right into the possible causes of single or multiple problems by gaining an understanding of events at different levels in a chain of events or sections of a business process.

As a tool for coaching, I adapt it to vary the process, using carefully chosen open or closed questions to filter and define what is really happening, either in a physical process or in someone’s understanding of that process.  Quite often the initial answer that we get from a question is quick-fire.   For example, “How did that feel?” might well elicit the reply, “Good”.  Unfortunately this a) doesn’t give us any specific information on what was happening and b) hasn’t encouraged real reflection on the process.

It is in the further questioning that we really start to get to the bones of it all.  And this is, perhaps, where we can use the time and space (which sounds a bit sci-fi!) that we currently have to explore these things in the detail that they deserve, leading us to yet better results.  One element is the use of silence which is a well-accepted tool in the box of coaches, but it’s a tricky one to use well – especially in a possibly fast-moving physical environment.  (Time and space, time and space!!) Let’s use it now.

So, perhaps an example would help. (I’m sure all coaches could translate the following conversation into their chosen field – I’d love to know how your conversations go!)

I’m helping someone to ride the perfect (haha!) 20m trot circle.  I will give them some basic rules (handrails, if you like) and send them away to explore.  Let’s suppose that things are going well, so after a few minutes we’ll regroup and discuss what is going on, it might go something like this:

Me: ‘Tell me about that” (I am deliberately keeping this broad and creating an opportunity for any kind of answer).

Client: “Well, it was pretty good” (So, this is my opening for exploring what good really was.  I’m also doing a little internal dance because they haven’t said, ‘ugh, it was awful’!)

Me: “In what way was it good?” (Open question, which may well generate a moment’s silence and thought)

Client: “The rhythm was good, but it wasn’t quite a circle” (We need to keep our clients focussing on the good things, but we’ll return to dealing with the rest later)

Me: “What was good about the rhythm?”

Client: “It stayed the same”. (I’m pleased with this because it’s what we are after, however, I want my client to be able to go away and replicate it so that they can ‘self-coach’ when they away from their coaching session).

Me: “How did you know the rhythm was good?” (And it is at this point that I start to get rather blank looks, because they have given me a good answer – what else could I possibly expect??)

Client: “The hoofbeats were even one-two, one-two, all around the circle”.

Me: “Great. It looked like a super rhythm to me too. As well as hearing the hoofbeats, what could you feel that helped you to tell that the rhythm was good”.

Client: “Boris, ” (lets just call the horse Boris for now shall we?)…”didn’t rush off”.  (This is good too, because it means that Boris is finding some balance.  This gives me a clue, as coach, that there might be something else which will be significant).

Me: “That’s a good feeling then and it’ll make things easier, won’t it? What difference was there in the feel through the reins?

Client: “I didn’t feel him taking so much weight in my left hand”.

Me: “Brilliant. So when you are working on your own, how will you know what good is with reference to the rhythm?”

Client: “From the sound and feel of the hoofbeats and whether I’m taking a different contact through the reins”

So, we move from a simple word, to a definition of that word which is specific to that rider, in her context when she rides a 20m circle on Boris.  She has described it in her own words, so it should be meaningful and easily remembered.

In other coaching, it works well too and helping clients to consider the real meaning of words means that they can celebrate small things, or succeed in keeping things in perspective by understanding exactly what ‘happy’, or ‘good’ or ‘difficult’ really mean for them.

Language – let’s celebrate it and use it.

 

 

 

 

 

Redefining ‘Coaching’

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

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

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

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

Should we define coaching?

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

Selling the idea

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

So, what might coaching be?

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

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

Describing coaching

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

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