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Lights, camera, ..........coaching!

I recently heard the documentary and film director Peter Kosminsky talking about his work with composer Debbie Wiseman. One of Kosminsky’s methods bought back memories of reading and watching Wolf Hall and prompted me to reflect on my leadership coaching practice…

I don’t know if you have read Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel’s novel about the life and times of Thomas Cromwell. I remember being completely blown away by it, something of a surprise as I did not see myself as a particular fan of historical fiction, regardless of how close to historical fact it might be.

I have since seen that CJ Sansom described his experience of reading Wolf Hall as being so good that ‘I had to ration it’. I get that entirely. I can recall three authors whose writing is so rich that I can only read a few pages at a time before I fill up with ideas and images which require that I step away from the book and allow them to settle before returning for more. The authors include Hilary Mantel, alongside Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Alistair Cook.

I remember how effectively Wolf Hall was translated to the stage by the RSC along with its sequel Bring Up the Bodies. Both plays were exceptional, worth risking DVT by spending six hours sat in a theatre in a single day!

Then came the TV series. Equally compelling both stage and small screen versions benefitted from the acting of the lead characters, Mark Rylance and Ben Miles respectively. Their body language and charged silences conveyed worlds of complexity at least as effectively as their dialogue thanks to some brilliant direction and staging.

This all came back to mind when listening to Peter Kosminsky, director of the TV version, while he was talking about his method for capturing footage. It was a method he used as a documentary maker and eventually used it in drama. He calls it ‘Point of View and Reaction’.

The ‘Point of View’ part involves the camera following on the shoulder of the principal actor within a scene. The audience see the view that the actor’s character has at the same time as the character. Crucially, the audience does not see it in advance. When the actor and audience both reach the destination they have the same shared experience. Kosminsky then quickly cuts to the face of the actor to pick up on the second element – the ‘Reaction’ which is shared with the audience.

Kosminsky talks about how this is different from having a scene set and shared with the screen audience prior to the character entering the scene. When this happens the audience is in a position to form their own point of view about the environment and its likely impact on the character as they enter the scene. As a consequence their judgement of the character’s reaction is informed by their own expectation at least as much as being based on the character’s unique perspective.

Even though I have not seen the TV version for years I have a vivid memory of how effective this method was with engaging me as an audience member. It offered a profound sense of sharing the character’s experience. At the time of watching I don’t think I realised what it was that was particularly engaging me – now I know.

It set me thinking about how the ‘Point of View and Reaction’ approach is important in coaching as well, albeit without the use of a TV camera! I know that I am coaching effectively when I feel like I am looking over the shoulder of the coachee as they describe the journey through their thinking. It is important to capture their ‘Point of View’ in this way and not get ahead of them. Getting ahead of my coachee means I start to create a scene on the basis of my assumptions and risk starting to direct their thinking. Much better to observe the new territory by viewing over their shoulder as they move through the landscape of their thoughts and feelings. From time to time I switch ‘the shot’ by asking a question that captures my coachee’s unique reaction to their own thinking. A rich source of information for the coachee comes by noticing their reaction in detail, sharing this with them before encouraging their reflection on what they have sensed.

So courtesy of Peter Kosminsky and the characters of Wolf Hall I now have words that describe a version of the coaching process, ‘Point of View, Reaction and Notice’.

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