I am delighted to be involved in the Find a Coach pilot run by Clore Social for leaders in the social sector. You can find more details about this scheme at through this link. . Clore Social asked for some blog content from me in support of promoting find a coach which you can find here.
The Q and A below is a fuller version of my thinking that led to the blog content.
Jeremy, what persuaded you to become a coach?
As a tutor in the University setting I was renowned for my expectation that my tutees should solve the challenges they faced using the skills that they already had. I was a big one for talking about the importance of building an intellectual and emotional toolkit to help you to do this. Of course there are times where it is necessary for knowledge to be shared by someone with more experience to another person with less. A useful experience in its own right but be no means and impactful as applying your own existing tools in pursuit of a solution in a new area. Students started out by judging coming to me required too much time and effort from them as I required them to ‘work it out’. It was both amusing and flattering that they would return time and again as they recognised, perhaps in the quietness of their own mind, that what they gained from time with me was understanding, not simply knowledge.
Based on extensive professional experience, both mine and others, I have rarely seen people respond to directive as positively as they do to being trusted and empowered. I did my best to follow that route in my management and leadership roles. Eventually I decided that while adopting a coaching approach in a particular institutional setting was rewarding I had more to offer, and more to gain, from being a coach being challenging and challenged in all sorts of different environments.
Finally, I had seen in several environments how bad managerial habits were being handed from one generation to another. There were few role models of effective management and leadership in middle through to senior management levels. So it was that my first reason for exploring a coaching career was to support the development of the leaders of tomorrow.
I also have a strong memory of a conversation I had with a student many years ago. We had known each other only for a short while and she and I were both involved in an intensive summer school, myself as the lead tutor and her as a student delegate. The learning was intensive and I had high expectations of the delegates in terms of what I expected of them and balanced this by being clear that I would support them fully to meet those expectations. After a particularly challenging laboratory session this young lady, Emily, came up to me and said “I know how it is that you get the best out of us”. I said “Reeeallly, do tell!” with more than a little trepidation. Emily came be to me with “All you do is get us to choose to do what we already realise we should be doing!” I recall being a little peeved as she walked away – after all any sentence that starts with ‘all you do’ might be seen as a portent of something obvious to come! It took a day or two for me to appreciate the enormous simplicity of what she had said, and the truth of it. And appreciate it I did – what a talent it is to be able to help people make such a choice! That ability to help people to make the right choices for themselves or to change choices that are not serving them is central to the outcomes of coaching. The fact that I recall a 25 year old conversation in such detail speaks volumes in itself. I have a lot to thank Emily for!
How would you describe coaching?
Coaching is about creating a time and a place for you to think and to hear your own thinking. It’s about having that thinking heard by someone you can trust. It’s about your thinking and feelings being supported and challenged without judgement. It’s about you seeing new perspectives and then deciding on your own plan to make things happen. For me I see my coaching process as embracing trust support challenge and change, not necessarily in a linear sequence, yet always in alignment with the coachee’s agenda.
What is the power of coaching?
For the coachee it is the opportunity to have a time and space to challenge the assumptions and beliefs limiting them in moving forward or which are stopping them from building even more effectively from a position of strength. Hearing our thinking is a major step in developing awareness, to consciously thinking about habits that might not have been evaluated for years. Coaching is purposeful and clear with its expectation that the responsibility for action lies with the coachee. Breaking the dependency on background, environment and challenging a deterministic belief is hugely powerful. For me as a coach the power comes from not bringing my ego into coaching. I trust my coachee’s thinking and the coaching process yet am prepared to also trust my own intuition. The embodied as well as cognitive way that I am responding to my coachee is rich data for them provided that they are comfortable in receiving it.
Why is it important?
Coaching creates leaders who create leaders. It has the capacity to create solution finding communities whose capability goes way beyond the sum of its parts. Coaching can break the mould related to a model of power and influence that encourages isolation in thinking and fear of failure. It has the potential to deliver lasting benefits rather than quick fixes. It is an intervention that encompasses the whole of life view and supports finding integrated solutions.
Coaching can play a major part on supporting wellbeing and act as a positive influence on the mental health of the public. With the future of work being one where success depends on relationship building and on shared endeavour coaching will play a part of the journey from hierarchy and team membership to one of a truer version of collective leadership.
What would you describe as a successful coaching experience?
Being present as a coachee thinks out loud is a privileged position. Sensing them click into thinking that is purposeful for them often shows as a tangible change of state in their being. Simply witnessing this is a real time indication of potentially meaningful session for the coachee. I have learned not to expect drama if there is a sudden unblocking of thinking although or to ‘see’ that metaphorical lightbulb shining above my coachee’s head. The drama is often internalised by a coachee in a session. What I do value highly at the end of session are observations like ‘that helped me think differently’ and ‘I need to think more about that’ and ‘I’ve got something I can really work with now!’. Often it is at or beyond the end of a coaching programme that coachees talk about what has changed for them and for me so many have described the experience as being one that helped the to ‘Make things happen’. That phrase is central to a graphic describing what I do – my coaching helps my coachees to make things happen!
What are your favourite instances of successful coaching journey?
I have learned to derive satisfaction from the outcomes of all the coaching I do. Early on in my coaching career I recall that I did have a sense of looking for the ‘big victory’ for the client. I really found this unhelpful thinking as I believe it encourages a coach to think that they know what is best for the coachee. However much we might believe that it cannot be true as we do not walk in their shoes. What is satisfying is bumping into clients months/ years after coaching and hearing them talk about how they are still practicing the thinking and emotional muscles that they had discovered in their coaching. The longevity of coaching benefits is an often ignored aspect of the benefits of coaching given that it does not fit into any return on investment model easily. Yet it sometimes the case that the benefit of coaching is realised sometime after the coaching programme is finished. It is always the case that a successful coaching programme leads to benefits that might have a life time influence.
Is your approach to coaching tailored to the social sector? How so?
I feel that my coaching is tailored in a different way. It is tailored to anyone who is open to coaching and who has a purpose in pursuing a coaching conversation. As far as I am concerned it does not matter where they come from or how they work. My approach is to ‘coach the person as they are in front of me’. My curiosity, 36 years of professional experience and my knowledge of diverse coaching approaches offers a great thinking environment for my coachees should they wish to take advantage of it.
Of course the credibility to coach in a certain sort of sector or with a particular community of people is a different matter, a perception owned by the prospective coachee and influential on their decision on whether to take me on as a coach. An equally strong case can be made to use a coach with a strong knowledge base in the same area as the client (the value being common understanding/ language) or to use a coach without relevant specialist professional knowledge (the value being there is greater scope to challenge received wisdom). My professional experience is in the private and public sector while my coaching experience covers clients in both of these and the social sector. Four central personal values support my ability and interest in having a diverse portfolio: CURIOUSITY, LEARNING, MAKE A CONTRIBUTION, COURAGE.
Do you have a preferred coaching tactic (i.e TAYT)? What is the value of it?
My coaching tactic is to coach the person as they present to me at the time of the coaching. My LEARNING value means that I have an interest in a broad set of coaching approaches and I am very happy to invite a client to explore what might suit them best at that time. A key piece of learning for me has been to be at ease about ‘not knowing’ in coaching conversations and be comfortable if I am not sure what the coachee wants – ask them! To give you a sense of scale I have spent about as much time on coaching CPD (including supervision) as I do on actual coaching hours over the last couple of years.
Thinking about your thinking (#TAYT) is a useful device for me on three levels. (i) It is a feature that is common to all the work that I do (ii) and it is a test to check on my own professional purpose (iii) a model to use with the public describing the value of self-awareness and ‘self-coaching’, the value of peer coaching to self and peers, and when to make best use of a professional accredited coach.
(i) I offer coaching, facilitation, coach training, change management and project management and for a while I found all these services felt different and were draining me. It took me a while to appreciate that they are all, in different ways, about helping people to TAYT. The appreciation of this common thread made real to me that all these services really do align with my skills and values – it was a small but significant realisation!
(ii) If I come across a new opportunity I ask myself where is the TAYT for me or others in pursuing this opportunity. If I cannot find a satisfactory answer to this then I do not pursue the opportunity – again very simple and powerful.
(iii) You can find more about this at https://www.alpamayocoaching.com/single-post/2019/01/30/Thinking-about-your-Thinking.
What should someone who has never participated in coaching expect?
You can expect to...
Enjoy the time and space to allocate to yourself and your thinking alone, without any distraction
Appreciate what it is like to be listened to, without judgement
Think and feel in equal measure and to reflect on meaning and significance – it's hard work but so fulfilling
Gather a clearer understanding of what makes you tick and how that influences your environment
Feel the value of being supported while exploring territory that will need courage and commitment
Develop strength to change habits that are not serving your purpose
Appreciate of the power of consciously making choices
…and all throughout increasing awareness and personal responsibility for turning thought to meaningful action.