Tag Archives: About Coaching

Coaching: the gift that keeps on giving

Recently, I was absolutely thrilled to discover that former coaching client, Carrie Bedingfield, has done a very successful talk which is available on TEDx.  Her subject?  How striving is costing us everything:  the profit paradox.

I thought of Carrie again recently.  I’ll come back to the “why”.  First though, I want to touch on something that coaches, and their clients, constantly grapple with:

Pondering what return you’ll get from your investment in coaching?

When you make an investment in coaching – time, money and more – you want to know that it will be worthwhile.  This is true whether you are seeking coaching for yourself or sponsoring coaching for someone in your team.

Will coaching help you with the immediate issues that have made you consider coaching as an option in the first place?  You want to know.

Will coaching lead to benefits in the long-term that make the investment worthwhile?  You want to know.

At the same time, coaching holds no guarantees.  There’s no guarantee that coaching will deliver the solutions you are hoping for.  There’s no guarantee that coaching will deliver any solutions.  Coaching, as an “act of faith” remains an expensive option.

What proof is there of the long-term benefits of coaching?

Coaches, too, grapple with this issue.

We look for studies which demonstrate the impact of coaching.  They’re out there but they’re not always easy to find and, quite quickly, they can look out of date.

Sometimes, I prefer to let clients speak about the results over time from their investment in coaching.  Carrie told me at the time what benefits she had from her investment in coaching with me.  In recent days, she’s been kind enough to add a few words about the long term impact of coaching.

This is what she had to say:

CarrieWhen I first started working with you, I was working flat out and trying to make myself available to everyone – clients, team members and others – all the time.  Paradoxically, the more I tried to make myself available to people, the more I was starting to resent people for stealing my time.  Also, I was riding the roller-coaster of other people’s emotions.  A client would be unhappy (or just express something in a way that brought us all down) and I would dive down.  A project would go well and the world was a sunny happy place.  I was feeling exhausted and I knew the approach I was taking wasn’t sustainable.

Like many people, I’m a bundle of sharp contrasts – they conflict all the time which causes wasted energy/effort or even pain.  With Dorothy, I learnt to unpick these. They all want something good for me.  If I can identify how each is trying to serve me, I can end the conflict.  Now I understand, for example, what dangers my desire to be available and my concern to protect my time are warning me against and how they’re trying to help me.  And I can set and communicate boundaries that don’t cause inconvenience for me or anyone else.

Another massive lesson for me was to take responsibility for myself only – one I share with other people all the time.  Clearly defining what I’m responsible for and what I’m not (you need to keep doing this ALL the time!) changes the energy completely and removes the emotional weight of running a service business.  Dorothy enabled me to disentangle myself from all of this and establish what I am responsible for which helps me focus effort on what I can actually change and lift the weight from my shoulders of other people’s responses which are their choice.

I didn’t think it was possible to learn something completely new or to massively grow in an area of little experience.  For me that was coaching and developing others.  I had limited beliefs about what others were capable of so I neither thought they could transform nor that I could help them do it.  I learnt by doing that actually, I could change/develop/grow/learn and that opened up a new world. All these people in my extended team could also develop amazing new talents and I could help them do it!  And that’s exactly what happened.

The work we did together had a massive impact on me at the time.  Learning to coach members of my team meant that they were able to fulfil their potential more fully and I could delegate to them.  My role changed quite quickly.  I went from being key to the provision of services to take on a leadership role and, quite quickly, to become CEO.  This opened up opportunities to do other things, such as lecturing for the University of Cambridge Judge Business School and founding 50th Generation, an incubator for meaningful, growing businesses.

It’s easy to say that, as a result of our work together (and other learning with other learning partners), I became a different person.  I think it’s more truthful, though, to say that our work together helped me to become a more effective, fun and joyful version of myself.

Carrie Bedingfield

Entrepreneur, business grower, investor, communications specialist, guest lecturer

Investing in your life and career

I thought of Carrie because I am currently putting together information about a coaching group I will be offering in the next few days for people who want to make their next career move – people who are seeking promotion within their current organisation or seeking to move from one organisation and another.  If you want to find out more, about this, click here.

Carrie’s experience demonstrates the kind of progress people make as a result of investing in their personal development.  Her testimonial exemplifies the kind of things people learn in coaching.  It also exemplifies the kind of results people can look forward to in the short-, medium- and long-term.

There’s a curious thing, too, about coaching.

Carrie’s testimonial is a reflection of just how extraordinary she is.

At the same time, in my experience, successful coaching demonstrates just how ordinary it is to be extraordinary.

Unintended consequences of our learning

Working as I do to support people to develop as leaders, I am often struck by the way coaching continues to add value long after it has finished.  I’m currently talking to a number of former clients about their experiences following coaching and I look forward to sharing what they have to say.

One conversation I had recently reminded me that the experiences that follow coaching are not all positive – at times there can be a bewildering array of side effects and unexpected consequences.  The same truth applies to all sorts of personal changes.  This is what I want to focus on today.

I want to preface my posting by adding that, over time, such challenges tend to “come good” and still, they can be hard to fathom at the time.  Here are just a few of the side-effects that I have experienced personally or observed in others over the years:

  • The “dramatic mistake” when trying something new:  Perhaps one of the greatest fears of someone who is making changes is that they will try something new and that it will go dramatically wrong.  This can range from sharing oneself – one’s opinions, feelings etc. – more fully with somebody close (our boss, spouse etc.), all the way to taking on a new role which constitutes a significant stretch.  In practice, it’s rare in my experience that the most feared outcome materialises and it’s even more rare that the world falls apart when it does.  More often, clients take small steps and discover that their fears were unfounded.  Even when something doesn’t pan out as expected it can be highly liberating to discover that we can make mistakes and still come through;
  • Relationship challenges:  A common challenge that we face when we make changes is difficulties in relationships, be they colleagues in the workplace or our loved ones at home.  I remember, for example, how one of my friends just fell away when I was in the midst of my professional coach training.  She stopped making contact and, when I commented on the change, sent me a letter saying how much I had changed and that she didn’t want to spend time with me any more.  I never knew what changes she was observing or what the impact was on her experience of our friendship.  There is, of course, a balance to be struck here.  At one end of the scale is what we might call the (insensitive) “zeal of the newly converted” – there’s nothing worse than having someone try to impose their new learning on us.  At the other end of the scale are the changes we make gently and slowly out of our growing awareness.  Sometimes the changes we make serve to deepen and strengthen our relationships.  The same changes serve to highlight those relationships that aren’t working.  Over time we may find ways to make them work.  Equally, we may be faced with the question, can this relationship be made to work – or is it time to step away?
  • Facing the truth about an untenable situation:  Coaching can support clients in finding ways to respond to challenging situations, whatever they are.  Perhaps we take steps to succeed in a role in which we were failing or to manage our relationship with a difficult boss.  Perhaps our sales go up dramatically or our profile in the business soars.  At the same time, we may become aware that our situation is untenable even whilst learning to handle it well.  We’re selling more of a product we don’t believe in, for example, or succeeding in a role at the same time as realising it’s not the right role for us.  The immediate joy of making progress can give way to doubts and uncertainty as we go beyond the challenges that brought us to coaching to face some deeper truth.  Coming to the right decision can take time and may happen long after coaching is completed;
  • The pain that comes with growing awareness:  Along the way we may experience feelings of pain and discomfort as we become more aware of things which, previously, were outside our awareness.  Sometimes, these may be the very things we needed to learn ourselves.  Having learnt to be effective in coaching those we lead, for example, our sensitivities are now heightened when we observe how our peers provide instruction without any support to staff.  Perhaps the pain we experience relates to our own unmet needs, especially when we are increasingly aware of them and have not yet found a way to meet them.

Have you experienced these or other unintended consequences of your learning?  It may be a time to get back in touch with your coach for a follow-up session.  It may a time to be attentive – to notice and to get under the skin of your thoughts and feelings to understand what’s going on.  It’s certainly a time for compassion – for yourself, for those around you, including those who stimulate the pain in you.

Talking about coaching for International Coaching Week

I promised to make some offers this week for International Coaching Week and this is my third of three.

I am offering to give a complimentary talk about the business benefits of coaching for senior leaders to the first organisation that contacts me, quoting “International Coaching Week:  please come and give a talk about coaching”.  You can contact me by following the view my complete profile link here on my blog to find my e-mail address.

My talk, which can be tailored to meet your needs, will explore:

  • How effective leadership correlates with business performance;
  • How emotional intelligence is central to leadership success;
  • Leadership coaching (and other alternatives) as a powerful way to accelerate the development of leaders in your organisation.
I will ask you to pay travel and accommodation expenses as needed if the talk takes place outside the M25.  And if you, too, would like to “pay it forward”, I invite you  to make a donation to the Disasters and Emergencies Committee (DEC) for their work in Haiti via this link or to make some other gesture that is meaningful to you. 

Offering a complimentary coaching consultation to you for International Coaching Week

Like many of my colleagues, I want to spend my time where it makes a real difference and International Coaching Week is no exception.  So, today I am reaching out to the senior leaders in organisations with whom I mainly work to offer a complimentary coaching consultation in celebration of International Coaching Week.

I have reserved a one-hour telephone coaching consultation in March and April for the first five people who send me a message with the heading “International Coaching Week:  please reserve a one-hour coaching consultation for me”.  My invitation to you is to bring the issue which, if you were to identify a way forward, would give you the greatest sense of progress.  I will help you to:

  • Get to the nub of the issue;
  • Clarify what outcomes you are seeking;
  • Understand the scale and scope of the issue;  and
  • Identify a way forward.
In the spirit of International Coaching Week, these coaching consultations are open to anyone who comes forward and are available at no charge whatsoever.  You can contact me by following the view my complete profile link here on  my blog and sending an e-mail.

If you decide that you, too, want to “pay it forward”, I invite you to make a donation to the Disasters and Emergencies Committee (DEC) for their work in Haiti via this link or to make some other gesture that is meaningful to you. 

Leave a comment this week and drop me a line to organise a complimentary coaching consultation

It’s International Coaching Week this week and today I’m making the first of three special offers in support of International Coaching Week.

I am offering a complimentary 30-minute coaching consultation to anyone who leaves a comment on my blog this week (that’s by 5pm on Friday 11th February, 2011) and sends me a message with the heading “I’ve left a message on your blog.  May I claim a complimentary coaching consultation?”  Click view my complete profile here on my blog to find my e-mail address.

And if you, too, would like to “pay it forward”, I invite you to make a donation to the Disasters and Emergency Commission via this link or to make some other gesture that’s meaningful to you.

International Coaching Week: what is coaching, anyway?

This week is International Coaching Week (ICW), sponsored by the International Coach Federation (ICF) to educate the public about coaching whilst allowing coaches to give something back.  It seems to me that the most fundamental question coaches need to answer this week is this:  what is coaching, anyway?  And how does it benefit clients?

Let’s get clear about this.  Most of us don’t go to the doctor’s because we want medicine or an operation.  We go because we want to get better.  The consultation, the medicine and the operation are not the aim of our visit but the means by which we seek to reach our aim.  In the same way, we don’t commission a builder to build an extension because we want more bricks and electricity.  Rather, we have some dream of what our home might become and of what it will do for us as a result of having an extension in place.  In the same way, coaching is a means to an end, rather than the end itself.

So, what sorts of aims do clients bring to coaching?  In truth, these vary enormously, though there are some underlying themes, the first of which is to improve performance.  An athlete might work with a coach to improve his or her performance, for example, and yes, so might a senior leader in the workplace or a mum at home.  For the athlete, performance might equate to gold medals or record-breaking achievements.  For the senior leader, performance might equate to additional income on the bottom line or to something more personal, like the ability to do a cracking job within just forty hours a week.  For the mum at home, performance might equate to managing the tasks associated with raising children and running a home in ways which afford every member of the family a sense of security, comfort, peace and fun.

Often, the aims clients bring to coaching reflect some kind of discomfort to which they want to give attention.  So a second theme in what clients want from coaching is greater ease.  The athlete may well be achieving fabulous results, for example, but wants to overcome the inner nerves that both detract from the joy of the sport and hamper the achievement of true world-class outcomes.  The senior leader may well want to improve results at work but also wants to feel less stress and enjoy a happier life at home as a result of achieving better business results in less time.  The mum at home may be yearning for greater ease and balance.

These and other outcomes come from making simple adjustments that make a disproportionate and positive difference to the person seeking coaching.  The athlete may change his or her inner talk in ways which replace nerves with focus, excitement and motivation.  The senior leader may adjust his or her attention in ways which lead to more effective decision-making and in turn to improved outcomes from less work – and a sense of inner peace.  The mum at home may adjust her standards from “super perfect” to “good enough” in areas where good enough really is – well, good enough!  In this way, she may feel less stress, self criticism or resentment and enjoy more ease and fun.  Perhaps the most exciting thing for clients of coaching – and for their coaches – is that coaching produces both immediate results and, by facilitating clients’ learning, lays the foundations for ongoing changes and improvements.  Few clients of coaching come looking for learning though many take learning from coaching that produces dramatic improvements to their performance and to their quality of living.

So what is coaching and how does it work?  Coaching is essentially a partnership between coach and client which supports the client of coaching in finding new ways forward.  You can read some of the comments my own clients have made about coaching by following this link or you might like to look out for tomorrow’s special offer in order to have a direct experience of coaching.  In short, and as a reminder, coaching is a means to an end – and a means to reach ends you barely dreamed of reaching on your own.

Introducing International Coaching week, 2011

The International Coaching Federation (ICF) sponsors International Coaching Week (ICW) every year as a way of educating the public about coaching whilst allowing coaches to give something back.  I’ll be responding to International Coaching Week in a variety of ways this week – including writing about it here on my blog.

The best initiatives for International Coaching Week create winners all round.  In the run-up to this week,  coaches around the globe have been thinking about what they can do that supports International Coaching Week without distracting them from key priorities.  The key to the success of International Coaching Week really does lie in creating “win, win” opportunities.  And because coaches are typically generous in their support of others, discussion fora have been alive with the exchange of ideas.

I started preparing months ago for International Coaching Week by writing an article for the UK’s premier coaching magazine, Coaching at Work.  This article focusses on the benefits to coaches of undertaking a voluntary project, providing coaching to members of the senior leadership team of a school in West London.  I was able to write this article because I led the project, between 2004 and 2006.  Its duration and the fact that time has passed since the end of the project meant that I was able to draw on the experience of team members both during and since the project.  If you are a subscriber to Coaching at Work, you can read a short on-line version of this article by following this link or you can look out for it in the March edition of Coaching at Work.

I’ll be making some offers of my own as the week progresses.  I particularly want to contribute some donations for the work which was begun in Haiti just over a year ago.  (And if you feel moved to make a small donation please follow this link).  First though, tomorrow I will be attempting to answer the question “what is coaching?”

Completing my coaching with Lynne

Monday, 25th October 2010.  We didn’t set out to do it this way when we scheduled our last appointment and still, later, my coach, Lynne Fairchild, realises this date is exactly five years from the day we first spoke.

During those five years, Lynne and I have spoken three times a month and our coaching has covered every area of my life.  Since I started running my own business in 2002 and started working with Lynne in 2005 she has been a significant source of support for me as I explore what it means to own and run a business – and to have a life in which work and non-work are in some kind of balance.

This year I have chosen to work with Kathy Mallary, who specialises in helping coaches to market their businesses, and this has provided an impetus to draw my work with Lynne to a close.  I am full of gratitude as I think of the work we have done together.  During this time, I have become increasingly self assured, understanding my aims and values and taking steps torwards leading an ever more authentic life.  I have also discovered just how much I enjoy working in a committed coaching relationship and this has served me well with my clients, too:  a number of clients have worked with me over time and I look forward to more and more such relationships.

As an aside, Lynne and I have not (yet) met face to face because of the geographical distance between us.  I am based in London and Lynne is based in the US.  I hear eminent coaches in the UK talk about how coaching is most effective when it’s carried out face to face and I wonder – I confess – if consciously or unconsciously they say this to protect their businesses from the exchange rates which – when it comes to telephone coaching – favour coaches abroad.  In our final (“completion”) session Lynne gives recognition to my willingness to go deep in our work together and without holding back.  It seems to me that working by phone has supported this depth rather than detracted from it.

What do you say when you say goodbye after five years of working together?  In truth, after five years of working together much of what needs to be said has been said already.  We have acknowledged each other so many times.  We know that our deep mutual regard will outlive our coaching relationship.  We know that the completion of our coaching is the beginning of our post-coaching relationship.  I know that I feel confident – no, glad – to continue to refer people to Lynne.

In the run up to our completion I think of our work as like planting a tree.  I know that the tree is planted and has taken firm roots.  I know that there are things outside of our work together that have contributed to the well-being of this metaphorical tree.  I know it will continue to grow long after our work is completed.  And for this I am, quite simply, deeply grateful.  

Moments of truth on the path to learning

A client in coaching has the first inkling that their current employer may not be able to meet their current or future career needs or perhaps that their marital partner of many years may not be able to meet them as the person they have become.  It is a moment of great challenge for the client:  a moment when he or she opens a door that, in truth, has been held firmly closed for some time and against a growing body of evidence.

This can become a time of “yes, but… no, but…” as the person seeking coaching dances between two different parts of self.  One part yearns to live life fully and to explore and pursue every need.  Another part has many concerns, from fear of the unknown to some lurking sense of disloyalty at the thought of leaving a job or a lover, preferring stasis to the uncertainties of an as-yet-undiscovered future.

Sometimes the coach gets caught in the crossfire, as if the first inkling that something might be true is equal to the final decision to leave.  As the client back-pedals from his or her own insights the coach may be left holding the idea of change as if it were his or her own.

The truth is such moments, whilst they look like the end of one path are always the beginning of another.  And whilst the coach may be able to say, “ah!  I’ve been here before with other clients on other journeys”, he or she is at this stage as ignorant as the client of the outcomes that may in time come from their work together.  It could go either way.  For who knows what needs might be seeking expression until the client reaches a point of readiness to explore?  And only when those needs have been identified and understood can the client decide how best they might be met.

(And here’s a note to clients everywhere:  if your coach claims to know the outcome of your journey ahead of time – beware!  For even when there are trends and likelihoods, your coach needs to be guided by you, supporting you in forging your own path.  The coach who leads you down a path that is not your own does not serve you well or support you in seeking out and understanding your own wisdom and guidance).

“Executive” and “Life” Coaching: choosing the right coach for you

Coaching’s leading international body, The International Coach Federation, offers tips for selecting a coach and, well, more tips for selecting a coach, so I think I need to start this posting by answering a question which may or may not be in your minds: why am I providing thoughts when guidance is already available?

The answer is two-fold or maybe three. Firstly, my recent series of postings on “life” and “executive” coaching doesn’t seem complete to me without addressing the question of how to find the right coach for you. Secondly, you’re here reading this blog and you may or may not know about the ICF’s guidance: at the very least, I wanted to supply the link. And thirdly, it’s possible that I may have some thoughts to add.

The ICF’s Tip 2 is know your objectives for working with a coach. I’m going to put this in pole position and adapt it slightly, to know what you want. When you are seeking help and support it helps to know what outcomes you want from your investment. It’s also possible that the help and support you need right now may or may not be coaching. (I want to add a note of compassion here: from some people at least, exploring what you want is the work in which you invest with your partner of choice).

The ICF Tip 1 is educate yourself about coaching. I’m inclined to adapt this, too, to – simply – educate yourself. I have written about a number of different approaches elsewhere on my blog and as I write I am making a mental note to write an overview of some of the approaches that are out there, though this posting is for another day. The bottom line is this:  coaching may or may not be the right next step for you. Meantime, if you do want to read about coaching, the ICF Research Portal also hosts coaching research articles, case studies, journals, etc.)

There’s a tip the ICF doesn’t highlight: know how you want to work with your coach. As well as knowing what outcomes you want from coaching, it helps to know how you want to work with your coach to make progress towards those outcomes. In practice many clients don’t know the answer to this question until they have their first experience of coaching. Still, thinking through this question helps you to decide whether coaching is the right investment for you and also to find the best match for you. (And in case you want to explore what coaching requires of the coach, you might like to read “Executive” and “Life” Coaching: What does each require of the coach?)

The ICF Tip 3 is to interview three coaches before you decide on one. Professional coaches are used to responding to requests of this kind and benefit from it: just as you want to find the right coach for you they want to find the right clients for them. This part of the process helps you to deepen your understanding of what you want as well as to test the match with your potential coach. It also reassures your coach that you come to coaching from a place of commitment and having “done your homework”.

The ICF Tip 4 follows on from Tip 3, highlighting that when you choose the right coach for you, there should be a connection that feels right for you. In other words, trust your instincts. This is true when you make your initial choice and it’s also true when you start your work together. If your instincts are telling you this isn’t the right person for you to work with, it probably isn’t. Don’t be afraid to draw your coaching to an end and go in search of a better match.

By the time you have gone through these steps, the labels (“executive”, “life” etc.) that have helped you draw up your initial shortlist of coaches should have served their purpose. By now you have had the opportunity to explore in greater depth the match between you and your coach and find the right coach for you. I wish you well with your search.