Tag Archives: developing your coaching skills

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  They’re out there but they’re not always easy to find and, quite quickly, they can look out of date.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.

Coaching, therapy and the outstanding leader

Autumn is meeting time for many as people return from holidays and begin to shape an agenda for the year ahead. Coaches are no exception. On the one hand, coaching clients return to coaching after their summer break. On the other hand, commissioning clients often ask to explore what role coaching can play in supporting the corporate agenda.

As I prepare for one such meeting, I am invited to share information in response to a range of questions. How do you work with clients? What are your aims and objectives? What is your coach training, knowledge and background? What arrangements do you have in place for your continuing professional development? What types of coaching intervention do you offer and to whom? How do you measure results? Can you share a typical coaching programme, including details of any questionnaires or tools you might use? Can you share your CV?

As I prepare my responses to these questions, I notice that I pause – only for a moment – before I share information about my personal development. What if I am judged on the basis of sharing this information? Still, I go ahead and write:

Alongside my professional formation I have also invested extensively in my own personal development throughout my career. As well as working with professional coaches I have also chosen at times to invest in therapeutic interventions including cognitive behavioural therapy and the physical therapy known as rolfing. My trainings in NLP and NVC have brought both personal growth and insights which inform my work as a professional coach, consultant and trainer.

I recognise the part of me that fears judgement. It is an old, old fear. I remember a period before I began to invest in my own learning in this way. This was a period in which I yearned to make this investment and yet was so fearful – what if I make this investment only to learn that I really am as flawed as others seem to be telling me I am? This was my greatest fear. This is the fear that still sits behind my fear of being judged by the people I have not yet met and who may become clients.

And yet I know how valuable these experiences have been to me and just how important they are to my work as an Executive Coach. For they give me something that the most effective leaders have in spades – the ability to stand back and observe myself, to notice my thoughts, feelings and emotions, to connect with my motivations in a given moment and to choose to respond to them in ways which serve me and those around me. For how can our leaders respond effectively in a given moment if they lack awareness of the choices they are already making, let alone of the wide range of choices available to them?

There’s more. For I draw on the depth of my own learning and experience when I ask questions of clients and make observations that open up new pathways for them. In the same way, the leader who has a deep self awareness is uniquely placed to coach those he or she leads. Though I am not a therapist, it comes as no surprise to me that some of the most effective coaches have a background as a therapist or experience of therapy as clients.

Perhaps, though, the most fundamental benefit I can offer to my clients based on my own experiences is this. For sometimes clients struggle in their current way of thinking, yearning to make changes and wondering if they will ever find a way to free themselves from the thrall of their habitual ways of thinking. Sometimes clients soar to reach new heights that they could not have believed possible and for which role models are few and wonder if they can make the journey. Sometimes they both struggle and soar. On these occasions I can come to coaching with a confidence that the journey they are setting out to make is possible for them. I can bring compassion for the journey. I can support them as they slow down to take just one step at a time.

For there is nothing to fear in supporting clients in their journey when your own journey has taught you that, yes, you can.

Choosing your professional coaching training

There’s a question I get asked (in various forms) so often that it’s time for me to write about it on my blog: what training courses do you recommend for me to develop my coaching skills?

Of course, the answer depends largely on your response to a further question: what do you want to gain from the training programme you choose? In the main, the people I field questions from are looking for a professional coach training – one that will get them on the road to becoming a professional coach or one which will help them further to develop skills they are already using professionally.

This in turn raises another question: are you planning to pursue professional accreditation and if so, with what body? The field of professional accreditation is highly diverse and often confusing – a reflection, perhaps, of coaching’s current status as a young and emerging profession. I ask this question ahead of time because some programmes are accredited by the accrediting bodies. This suggests a mark of quality and also plays a role further down the line. For example, the International Coach Federation accredits programmes (as Accredited Coach Training Programs or ACTP, for example) and offers an optional accreditation route for graduates of these programmes which is different to that offered to others. Given the highly fractured nature of coaching accreditation in the UK and the international nature of coaching I opted to pursue accreditation with the International Coach Federation.

There are many other questions to consider. For example, is it enough to go for a “generic” programme or do you want to choose one which focuses on your own coaching specialism (“executive” or “life” coaching, for example)? I have taken the view that all coaches, no matter what their specialism, have core skills in common and this is reflected in the programmes I recommend below. So, here are some thoughts about specific programmes.

Firstly, I took my own training with ITS. This was a comprehensive NLP-based training – you don’t get to graduate from the coaching programme without first achieving your certified NLP Practitioner and Master Practitioner status. It’s a mark of the value that NLP can add that many experienced coaches include training on these programmes as part of their continuing investment in their professional development. I can recommend this path highly based on my own experience.

Secondly, not least because they were early into the market, the Coaches Training Institute has trained many great coaches, including my own. Even if you don’t take their training, it is based on thinking and approaches which permeates many coach trainings.

One coaching programme which has caught my attention is run by Coaching Development. Its founders, Philip Brew and Colin Brett, set out to raise the bar in training coaches and I’ve noticed that it’s been highly recommended both by newcomers to the profession and by experienced coaches who have opted to follow the course.

One further programme is run in the US by Coaching That Works. I mention this programme because of my interest in Nonviolent Communication. Martha Lasley, who designed the programme, has based this programme on NVC principles. All the programmes I mention in this posting are ICF-accredited programmes.

Perhaps it’s worth adding that, with such a large and growing market, this posting is simply scratching the surface of a large topic and reflects my own choices and experience. This can lead some people to ask: how do I begin to choose? So my final remark is this: whatever you choose will be a step in the right direction rather than your final destination. If you’re serious about offering a high standard of coaching to your clients, you will continue to invest in your development as a professional coach and will no doubt choose to take part in further programmes along the way.

Taking a moment to celebrate

Today I am celebrating! I am preparing to offer a number of Coaching Groups in areas of special interest to me. These include a group for leaders as coaches, a group for new coaches and a group for people who are committed to living in the spirit and practice of nonviolent communication.

As I begin to share my plans, the feedback is overwhelmingly positive. In the leadership and coaching arena, I have started to explore with a colleague a coaching group for leaders to explore what works in leadership. In the field of nonviolent communication, I have been overwhelmed by the response and am beginning to put together an interest list. I feel thrilled.

And alongside this – and many other celebrations – I received today an e-mail from my sister-in-law about Burma’s democratic leader. As I read it, I feel all the more strongly that nonviolent communication is a force for good in the world. Her message? I think it speaks for itself:

I’ve just sent my birthday message of support to Burma’s democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.

Check it out and create your own here: http://www.64forsuu.org/word.php?wid=10527

Aung San Suu Kyi has now been imprisoned by Burma’s brutal regime for over 13 years. 64forSuu.org is a website where celebrities, politicians and the public from all over the world are coming together to send birthday messages of support to the world’s only imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Find out more about Aung San Suu Kyi’s fight for human rights and democracy in Burma on the website http://www.64forsuu.org/

Coaching presuppositions 5: Trying on a presupposition for a day

In recent weeks, I have been taking time on my blog to explore what it takes to develop a coaching mindset. Having offered some of the presuppositions that can support leaders in developing a coaching style of leadership I went on to offer some exercises for building awareness – of our own presuppositions, of the presuppositions of others.

Today, I offer an exercise to support readers in developing new presuppositions. The exercise is very simple – to “try on” a new presupposition for a day. This could be a presupposition from my October 2008 postings. This could be a presupposition of your own choosing – one that tests you in some way. In times of challenge for example, how about presupposing that your experience is especially designed for your learning, growth and future success?

Choose a presupposition that you’d like to try on for a day. Assuming that your chosen presupposition is true, notice what different thoughts you have and what different actions you take – and with what different outcomes. Take time at the end of the day to reflect on your experiences. Take time with your study partner (if you have one) to explore your experiences and to notice what learning they offer.

Coaching presuppositions: are you playing ‘angels and devils’?

Recently, I wrote about the coaching presupposition that we are all creative, resourceful and whole. Professional coaches who work to the definition of coaching and who follow the ethical codes of the International Coach Federation agree to hold their clients as creative, resourceful and whole. Leaders who adopt a coaching style also work from this belief.

But what happens when we hold this belief about some people and we don’t hold this belief about others? This is an approach I call ‘angels and devils’. One sign that we might be playing ‘angels and devils’ is when we view the same behaviour differently on the part of two different people. One example of this was the manager whose assessments of his staff seemed to vary depending on how much he liked them. When his top salesman submitted his figures late on a regular basis it was always the manager’s view that this was OK because he was doing so well. The manager was also forgiving of behaviours which were out of line with the team’s agreed values. However, the manager was quick to criticise other team members for the same behaviours, making it clear they were unacceptable.

This approach tended to stimulate criticism of the manager by staff and prompted capable members of the team to look for jobs elsewhere. As a coach, this manager failed to address behaviours in his star players which he would readily discuss with those he didn’t rate. At the same time, this second group did not value his attempts to ‘coach’ them, believing that his coaching was rooted in a distorted view of them.

My question to you today is, are you playing ‘angels and devils’? And with what outcomes? I invite you to reflect on the following questions:

  • What view do you take of different members of your team? To what extent are you able to hold each member of your team as creative, resourceful and whole?
  • What conclusions have you reached about members of your team based on their performance? What other factors affect the extent to which you are able to hold your team members as creative, resourceful and whole?
  • With what level of ease are you able to hold each member of your team as creative, resourceful and whole?

If you are working with a study partner, take time to share your answers with your study partner. You might find it especially valuable to compare your views of staff at different ends of the spectrum. For what reasons are you able easily to hold some of your staff as creative, resourceful and whole? And, thinking of those members of staff you find it hard to hold as creative, resourceful and whole, what would it take for you to hold this presupposition? What would be different in your relationships with your staff if you were able to hold each and every one as creative, resourceful and whole?

Coaching presuppositions: an exercise in self awareness

Yesterday, I offered an exercise to help you raise your awareness of our presuppositions and how they inform behaviours. Today, I invite you to use the same exercise to bring to conscious awareness the presuppositions you hold: this is an exercise in observing yourself.

Like yesterday’s exercise, this brief exercise can be carried out at the end of the day – perhaps for a few minutes of quiet time in your office or as you travel home. Notice two or three key conversations you have had during the course of the day. If possible choose a variety of conversations with different people. Review each conversation in turn and ask yourself:

  • What did each one of us say and do during each conversation?
  • What did the things I said and did presuppose? On what basis do I hold these presuppositions to be true?
  • What was the impact of these presuppositions both during our conversation and on the outcomes from our conversation?

If you are working with a study partner, take time to share your answers to these questions with your study partner. Ask your study partner to notice what presuppositions are implied by your input into each conversation. Notice where your study partner has reached the same conclusions as you and where your conclusions differ. Take time to explore the differences – what do they tell you about your presuppositions of which you were not already aware?

Repeating this exercise over a number of consecutive days can raise your awareness of the presuppositions you bring to your conversations and of the impact they have on the outcomes that accrue from your conversations.

Coaching presuppositions: an exercise in raising awareness

If you’ve been reading my postings in recent days, you may be wondering what you can do to become more aware of presuppositions and how they inform our behaviours. I thought I’d take a moment to offer an exercise to help you – with more to come over the coming days.

This exercise is a brief exercise which can be carried out at the end of the day – perhaps as you travel home or for a few minutes of quiet time in your office. It is an exercise in observation – and this in turn can be an exercise in bringing into conscious awareness those things of which you are already aware at some unconscious level. You can take 5 minutes or 50 as follows.

Notice two or three key conversations you have had during the course of the day. If possible choose a variety of conversations with different people. Review each conversation in turn and ask yourself:

  • What did each one of us say and do during that conversation?
  • What did our words and actions presuppose? How do I know?
  • What was the impact of our presuppositions both during our conversation and on the outcomes from our conversation?

If you can, notice the difference between those conversations you view as successful and those conversations you view as unsuccessful.

It can also add to the richness of this exercise if you work with a study partner. If your study partner took part in the same meetings and conversations as you, take time together to ask these questions. If you work in different areas, take time to review one conversation each. In this latter case, when you are observing the observer, notice any presuppositions your study partner may be making as they review their conversation. What do you notice that perhaps your study partner doesn’t?

Repeating this exercise over a number of consecutive days can raise your awareness of the role that presuppositions play in our conversations and of the presuppositions that you and others hold. Over time, you are likely to notice the presuppositions that prevail in your work culture.

Coaching presuppositions 4: Every behaviour has a positive intention

As I write I am reflecting on the various work environments I have encountered during my life to date. These include environments in which I have been an employee and environments in which I have been a trainer, consultants and coach. They include environments in which I have been a leader and environments in which I have been a member of a team. They include environments in which I have been a volunteer – an unpaid contributor – as well as environments in which I earn my living. What has characterised those environments in which I have felt most free to give of my best? I especially think of those environments, as I ponder this question, in which the prevailing belief has been that, no matter what people do, they do so with a positive intention.

Perhaps it helps to reflect for a moment on those cultures in which this belief is not held. In these environments, the question “why did he do that?” may well be asked. And still, this question does not always imply a desire to understand. Indeed the question may well be discussed around the business without any direct conversation taking place with the individual concerned – without an honest sharing of experience. In this culture people talk about each other but not with each other.

I think with gladness of those environments in which the general assumption is that, no matter how we experience others’ behaviours, every behaviour has a positive intention. I have experienced these as environments in which people look for the good in those they work with, acknowledging their colleagues and everything they bring. I have experienced these as environments in which people take responsibility for their needs, talking with colleagues, giving direct feedback and making clear requests when they would like something to change. It’s not that requests are always granted. And still, I have observed how interacting in this way builds trust and understanding. And I notice that I have had much more fun in these environments even whilst achieving results.

How, then, does this connect with coaching? In what sense is this a valuable presupposition for a coach to adopt? As a starting point for exploring the many outcomes that come from holding this presupposition, I would suggest that, by holding this presupposition about the person (s)he coaches, the coach invites the person seeking coaching to a better understanding of himself. For when we understand the needs we try to meet by our behaviours – including behaviours we may ourselves find frustrating – we open up new options which better meet those needs. This is especially important when we experience inner conflict – for how can we satisfy apparently opposing needs when we don’t know what they are?

Just as understanding their different needs helps those we coach to find new ways to meet those needs, understanding the needs of others with whom they work can help them to find different strategies for communicating with their colleagues. In this way, coaching from the presupposition that every behaviour has a positive intention can be a way of helping those we coach to focus on those areas in which they can take action and to identify those actions they want to take. I would add that, as with other presuppositions, our own integrity in holding this presupposition sets a powerful example to those we coach.

How, then, can you identify the presuppositions you hold or to take action to develop new ones? Keep reading. In the coming days, I’ll be offering some exercises for you in response to these questions.

Coaching presuppositions 3: there’s no failure, only feedback

David Whyte, in his book The Heart Aroused, tells the story of a conversation between Thomas Edison and his foreman at the time they were working on ways to produce a filament for a lightbulb. Whyte writes:

“Late in his life, Edison was working on a problem of illumination: how to construct a filament for his brand-new electric light bulb, one that would not burn out, as every material he tried seemed to, in the briefest of instants. He had teams of experimenters working on the problem around the clock for months. Finally, the foreman of the works came to him, cap in hand. ‘Mr. Edison, I am sorry to say we have done a thousand experiments and worked thousands of hours to find this filament and I am afraid to say, it has all been for nothing.’ Edison looked back at the man and said, ‘Nonsense, we know a thousand ways in which it doesn’t work!’”

For the foreman, the numerous experiments had all been for nothing – a failure. For Edison, each experiment had yielded new information, providing valuable feedback on ways that didn’t work and allowing the team to focus their attention on finding new approaches.

As much as any other story, this anecdote illustrates what it means to live from the belief that there’s no failure, only feedback. When we allow ourselves the option to try with no guarantee of success, we are likely to be more open to trying out new approaches and to testing whether or not they work. Over time, we become more flexible and adventurous in our approaches and more open to change. Clearly, these are qualities that many employers yearn for in their staff. What’s more, to be able to live with ease at the thought of trying something and finding it doesn’t have the outcome we intend is to create a platform for sustainable health and high performance.

As coaches – whether professional coaches or leaders in the workplace – understanding the principle that there’s no failure, only feedback allows us to come to coaching with an open curiosity. What outcomes is the person seeking coaching wanting? What actions do they want to take? Which of these actions works and which doesn’t? And what’s next? Rather than put those we coach in the wrong, we are able to explore their experiences with them in ways which invite new insights and open up new avenues of exploration.

Coaching from the belief that there’s no failure, only feedback also implies being open to a variety of outcomes from our coaching. If we do not have a need to be “right”, for example, we can give feedback and make observations without any attachment to a particular response. Sometimes the immediate response to feedback may well be a denial or blank incomprehension – to begin with. Given space to reflect, though, as well as a license for our observation to be true and for the individual still to be OK, the person receiving our feedback may well come back and say, yes, I thought about it and I think you may be onto something.

If you would like to learn more about the presuppositions that underpin coaching or to undertake exercises to test and develop your own presuppositions, keep reading. In the coming days, I’ll be exploring additional presuppositions and offering exercises for you.