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Truth telling or self serving?

I recently had one of those moments during a conversation where I had the strongest sense of agreement with a view being expressed to me. It comes with a sense of being drawn toward an idea, a notion and can often be accompanied by body language that echoes that ‘toward’ behaviour. The idea I was drawn toward was the notion that leaders of the future need to be both good at coaching and be willing to be coached if they are to succeed. While the former of these is important it is the second part of this that really interested me. What is it about being open to coaching that is important?

The answer is straightforward. Being coachable reflects a willingness to have our thinking challenged and a preparedness to share and explore personal narratives that can either support or limit our thinking. Failure to do so will mean that a leader will be driven by their own view of the world, limited by their knowledge and assumptions. Their views will harden over time in the absence of any real challenge from the different perspectives held by others.

As this view was being shared with me I had three thoughts that arrived in my mind in rapid succession. The first related to my ‘toward’ response arising from my agreement with this observation. Tumbling over this was the thought that perhaps my agreement was self-serving. I’m an executive, leadership and development coach after all. Of course I would agree with the principle that being coachable is important! Thirdly, there was a question; was I being authentic in agreeing with this observation, the true test of which being my own willingness to be coached, to air my opinions and have them challenged by others.

It took a moment to process my thoughts and separate them out for individual consideration. The creeping concern over authenticity came from memories of times gone by where I have found receiving feedback difficult. Now I am comfortable in having my views tested by others in every conceivable way. Over the last two years for every hour of coaching completed I have done another hour where my coaching practice is challenged. Over 300 hours of testing my own thinking with others through shared learning, my training and assessment of others, and having my thinking challenged in group and individual coach supervision sessions. So although I need to keep my eye on how I respond to feedback I can say that I live in accordance with my view of the importance of being coachable. It’s part of being driven by a constant curiosity not satisfied by thinking in isolation!

What about the self-serving part? Well, yes I am advocating for more people to experience the benefits of coaching, by being willing to be coached. I have deliberately substituted the word people for leaders given that in my view we are all deliver aspects of leadership, whether at play or at work. I have always been an advocate for empowerment with full responsibility and accountability and favour the descriptor of collective leadership over team membership. So now I’m saying that pretty much everyone should be coached?! Actually, yes I am if you take coaching to mean sharing your thinking, being open to other perspectives, and preparedness to be responsible for your thinking and actions that arise from it.

This stops short of being self-serving by virtue of the fact that I also believe we all have the capacity to adopt a coaching approach. For most people their willingness to be coached, to have their thinking tested, will be supported by themselves, trusted friends, family and colleagues who are prepared and able to act in a coaching capacity. Self-coaching, and talking with others using a coaching approach can certainly unlock new ideas. A note of caution though. We are masters at self-deception so self-coaching without any external input can be limited in its scope. While there is good value in following a coaching approach with those you know this can be complicated by loyalties, agendas, and a tendency to avoid the more challenging conversations. That’s why there is a need for accredited, professional coaches, expert in what they do and engaged in learning and supervision that continually challenges and enhances their own practice. Self-serving or not, I will be delighted if more people are interested in being coached and believe that their willingness will be a step towards ensuring the best use of our collective thinking power!

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