April 17, 2018 § Leave a comment
I should straightaway say that I’ve never sat with someone who is dying.
But a few pages in a book which touched on the author’s experience of sitting with those who are dying, have led me to insights and confirmations about the role of coaching (Parker J. Palmers “A Hidden Wholeness”, 2004).
“We must abandon the arrogance that often distorts our relationships – the arrogance of believing that we have the answer to the other person’s problem … What is before us is not “a problem to be solved”, but a mystery to be honoured.” page 61.
In the phraseology of the Coactive model of coaching, the people we work with are naturally creative, resourceful and whole; not someone who needs fixing.
I’m learning that people who have sat with a dying person find that they are not just taking up space in the room. They may find words inadequate to describe their experience, but are often their description is some version of “I was simply being present”.
When I consider I’m being at my best in a coaching session, I notice afterwards that I too was often “just” being present: practising being present, sitting with a living belief in the value of the other person, and their capacity to pick their path (their path) through their truths and limiting beliefs. My contribution was the quality of my attentiveness, my listening to them and to myself, and my hopeful and supportive expectation of the best in them.
In his book, Parker J. Palmer quotes an incident in Nikos Kazantakis’ Zorba the Greek, in which the narrator is overly-impatient in watching a butterfly emerge from its cocoon. The narrator breathes on the cocoon to warm it, which at first encourages the butterfly to emerge. But it emerges too early, and its wings, which should have opened and dried naturally in the heat of the sun, are folded back and useless. He watches its struggles, as it is artificially and prematurely brought to a new place, before its time.
The metaphor for coaching is clear: we are not there to point out what for us are obvious solutions to the other person’s problem. For example, “Have you spoken to the other person about this?” may seem like an obvious and sensible suggestion. But the coachee might not be ready to take this step, or may not have the skills or awareness to ensure a good conversation. They’ve probably already considered and rejected this course of action. But their coach ’told’ them to, and imperfect skills or an imperfect inner commitment to the task may result in an unfortunate outcome.
Rarely does offering advice or a suggestion in coaching bring such dramatic consequences as for that emerging butterfly! But the story confirms for me that though I might offer models or abstract theories, or a reflecting challenge to help the person really understand themselves better, essentially my work is nondirective.
Rainer Maria Rilke wrote of “the love that consists in this, that two solitudes protect, border and salute each other.” A definition of the coach’s role, perhaps?
December 18, 2017 § Leave a comment
Some book titles are so insightful, or seem to carry the message of the whole book, that reading the book itself almost feels unnecessary. My shortlist of books like this includes Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway, and – on a more humorous level – the parenting book We Were Here First, Kid and Captain John W. Trimmer’s How to Avoid Huge Ships.
The Body Keeps the Score leapt out as a book really to read, as the issues the author explores have links to my coaching practice and to my own understanding of myself. The book explores the mental and physical impacts of significant trauma and how healing can be found; as one reviewer writes, it is “a brilliant synthesis of clinical cases, neuroscience, powerful tools and caring humanity”.
It’s beyond my expertise to work with trauma in coaching. If I ever had a sense of these issues surfacing within a client, I would discuss postponing the coaching, and checking what therapeutic or medical options they have taken up or might consider.
However, “The Body Keeps the Score” is still fascinating for me to read, as I believe the body often keeps the score in all sorts of ways in relation to strong experiences, whether happy, difficult or extreme. I know this from my own experience. In response to a very challenging work situation a few years ago, the best advice I found was not just to listen to my mind, but instead to use the wisdom of the body in finding a way through. This led me to opportunities for private moments of forgiveness of self and others, taking up painting, and using running as a way of processing thoughts and feelings.
Through my coaching, I believe physicality can open the door to emotionality and thus to new insights. When I’m feeling tired or stressed, my shoulders hunch up; noticing and changing my posture can help me feel a bit more positive. Inviting a coaching client briefly to repeat or ‘amplify’ body language – such as a clenched fist, a sweeping hand movement, or tapping of the feet – can lead to greater understanding of what might be behind the body language. As a coach, echoing or reflecting back body language can be a good way to listen more closely and to invite the client into deeper awareness. And active exercises such as time-lines, using spaces in the room or even chair work can make use of the links between physical experience and new realisations.
Van der Kolk writes: “Trauma is not just an event that took place sometimes in the past; it is also the imprint left by that experience on mind, brain and body … For real change to take place, the body needs to learn that the danger has passed and to live in the reality of the present.”
At times it feels like there’s too much in the world that needs healing. But if executive coaching can help people understand difficult or apparently inexplicable events at work (again I’m not referring to medically-traumatic episodes here) then maybe coaching can also result in some form of indirect healing?
December 14, 2017 § Leave a comment
Annie Medcalf (The Fusion Firm, and a fellow executive coach and consultant, and graduate of the Academy of Executive Coaching) and I had the great privilege recently of running a coaching skills training session for international human rights defenders at the University of York’s Centre for Applied Human Rights.
The Centre hosts an annual scheme for human rights defenders at risk. This year’s defenders come from Egypt, Ukraine, Sudan, Kenya and Azerbaijan, and over the years defenders from these and many other countries with poor human rights records have benefited from a three to six months’ protective residency in York. My involvement has included interviewing and learning from them about their leadership styles and experience; I also teach part-time at the Centre on leadership and management to the Defenders and to Masters students.
The coaching skills workshop began with the premise that these Defenders, in order to be effective and to mitigate the risks of detention and harassment, are already steeped in local and international networks. These networks offer support, information, co-operation – and some measure of protection. Most Defenders are also leading or working within a local human rights organisation.
So our approach to the Defenders was an offering of training in coaching skills to help develop their leadership skills, and to help them in situations such as supporting burnt-out colleagues, managing ‘maverick’ or disruptive partners, and nurturing up-and-coming activists.
Their response was enthusiastic, and with the support of the Centre for Applied Human Rights the training went ahead last week. We are now offering on-going coaching, to support the defenders in their practice of leadership when they return home.
Though Annie and I brought models and techniques to the workshop, we were of course learners too. It’s humbling to discover the challenges some communities and individuals face in standing up for freedoms that York citizens take for granted.
December 5, 2017 § Leave a comment
The news that Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party have (perhaps temporarily) delayed the Brexit negotiations is the latest version of a story right out of Grimm’s fairy tales.
Some versions of the Grimms’ story begin with an invitation sent to 12 fairies to each give a blessing to a new-born princess. A thirteenth – and uninvited – fairy, hearing what the others are up to, turns up in a rage and delivers a curse rather than a blessing.
This 13th fairy is sometimes depicted as an evil fairy; but according to Peter Hawkins of CSTD, from whom I’m proudly borrowing the idea for this blog, this fairy isn’t evil. They’re just mad at being forgotten.
The result: they turn up late, and make trouble – because they were forgotten in the first place.
So when I heard the news this morning, my fanciful mind wondered if the DUP might be feeling like a thirteenth fairy.
And the link to coaching?
When we’re working with teams, or unpicking complex ideas, or making decisions which affect a range of stakeholders, it’s not always easy to identify all those who need to be involved.
So what might be the implications for coaches, supervisors and for those involved in strategic planning processes?
- When supervising a coach who is coaching a team: invite them to map the team on a flipchart, and as a coach be interested in who turns up ‘late’ in the story; and ask, Who else isn’t on the flipchart yet? How are they connected to the other people on the flipchart? What message are they bringing?
- When providing conflict coaching: asking who else is there in the conflict – perhaps someone on the sidelines?, or who might appear less visible, who could offer another perspective or who might have skills or resources to help bring about resolution.
- When doing a stakeholder analysis with colleagues, asking again and again: Who else have we forgotten? Who else has an interest in what we’re deciding? If we were to look back to today, who might we realise needed to be inside the tent with us?
- When coaching someone who is facing a dilemma or a difficult decision: which opinions haven’t they paid attention to yet? Is there any voice inside them which hasn’t yet been heard? (this might be the voice of the outcome or some deep yearning which they haven’t yet dared to admit to themselves). What other options are available, in addition to the possibilities they’ve already thought of?
August 18, 2017 § 1 Comment
December 6, 2016 § Leave a comment
During 2016 I took the Academy of Executive Coaching’s Practitioner Diploma, and on successfully completing the programme I am now an Accredited Associate Executive Coach.
The AoEC is recognised as a coach training institution by the International Coach Federation, the European Mentoring and Coaching Council, and the Association for Coaching.
May 30, 2016 § Leave a comment
Coaching is a professional relationship between a trained coach and a client (who may be an individual or a group) with the goal to enhance the client’s work or home life, their leadership or management or their personal and professional development.
As ever, it’s the verbs which tell the story – in this case, “enhance”. In my experience of coaching, stretching back to the early 2000’s, most people exploring coaching begin with “How…?” questions. “How do I manage myself better in this upcoming situation, How do I free myself to find a better way of …, How can I better lead this colleague…, How can I improve the team’s performance?”
It’s the opportunity created by having time with an experienced independent practitioner who is dispassionately and wholly on your side: questioning, supporting, reflecting, encouraging, challenging; and all with a view to enabling you to find new understanding or new ways of ‘How…’.
Coaches need coaching too!, and I’ve been skillfully supported by Penny Kay in recent years – and we’re delighted to announce our associate relationship. We are working together as joint coaches where there is a pair, group or organisation who want a coaching approach.
As Penny writes, “Coaching is a lovely integrative method of problem solving, resolving dilemmas and discovering a way forward. Here is a nice summary from ILM that shows how the development of a ‘coaching culture’ in an organisation can be beneficial. But coaching can also be very useful for individuals who want to make positive changes, including their wish to improve their overall health.”
The ILM report that Penny cites shows how many organisations and companies, large and small, have used or are turning to coaching to change cultures and enhance professional development.