Keeping Your Coaching Muscles Flexed

This year I have strived to improve my health and fitness, with some overall good results. Last week though I came down with a cold, and I haven’t been to the gym in a few days; this has made me a little anxious that all my hard work might be lost! When I was thinking about this it also reminded me of a conversation I often have with fellow coaches, which is, ‘How do you keep your coaching muscles flexed in times when you aren’t doing that much coaching?’

I don’t know about you, but my work seems to go in ebbs and flows, sometimes it feels that I spend most of each week coaching, whether that’s one to one or in teams. Then I look back and feel I haven’t done much coaching in a while; my time has been taken up delivering training workshops and ILM programmes. This isn’t a bad thing in itself, but like missing the gym it starts to make me a little anxious; how will I cope when the coaching ramps up again? At the moment it feels that I’m coming to the end of a few coaching relationships, I’m saying goodbye to a number of coachees who’ve reached the end of their contracted programmes. So what will I do to keep those coaching skills fresh and ready in case the next work doesn’t start for a few weeks? The chances are it won’t with Christmas on the doorstep!

Some of the things I make an effort to focus on when I’m doing less coaching are:

  • Embracing the chance to get up to date on reading; what new coaching books are out? What does the latest edition of Coaching at Work have to say?
  • Arrange pro bono coaching sessions; I offer my services pro bono to NHS staff during the year, to support the work I do for them on ILM Coaching programmes. I only have limited capacity for this but I do find it fulfilling, when I can fit it in! I often have to turn people away but when it’s quieter I make extra effort to fit them in.
  • Make sure I have some peer coaching and / or supervision. Last week I met with my peer coach Karen Chamberlain for another great session which allowed us to think about how we develop our respective businesses.
  • Do coaching practice with trainee coaches on the ILM coaching programmes I do; this is a great way to keep those muscles flexed and ensure I am challenging myself to be the best coach I can be. They are after all a challenging audience who I know will ask me why I asked question xxx or why I didn’t intervene about topic yyy!
  • Embrace every opportunity to coach; with my children for example, who are always and will no doubt remain, my biggest coaching challenge!

I’d love to hear more about what you do to keep your coaching muscles flexed when you aren’t coaching a lot. Do you find that in those times you coach your team more? Or do you look for opportunities to receive coaching yourself?


What happens in a coaching session?

Building on my June blog where I explored “How Does Coaching Work?” this month I want to look more closely at what happens in a coaching session or meeting. I usually recommend 90 minutes for a coaching meeting; one hour feels like not enough to get under the skin of the issue, but two hours can be too much. The client should be thinking hard throughout the session and many find the process tiring after a while.

So, beyond active listening, powerful questioning and the other ICF Core Competencies, what goes on in a coaching meeting? I like to think that what is at play are what Nancy Kline (www.timetothink.com) describes as the Ten Components of a Thinking Environment (copyright Nancy Kline, 2010) which are:

1. ATTENTION – Listening with palpable respect and without interruption

2. EQUALITY – Treating each other as thinking peers – Giving equal turns and attention – Keeping agreements and boundaries

3. EASE – Offering freedom from internal rush or urgency

4. APPRECIATION – Offering genuine acknowledgement of a person’s qualities – Practicing a 5:1 ratio of appreciation to criticism

5. ENCOURAGEMENT – Giving courage to go to the cutting edge of ideas by moving beyond internal competition

6. FEELINGS – Allowing sufficient emotional release to restore thinking

7. INFORMATION – Supplying the facts – Dismantling denial

8. DIVERSITY – Welcoming divergent thinking and diverse group identities

9. INCISIVE QUESTIONS – Removing assumptions that limit our ability to think for ourselves clearly and creatively

10. PLACE – Creating a physical environment that says back to people, “You matter”.

Nancy Kline has identified that these elements are key to helping someone to think better, saying that “Everything we do begins with thinking. If our thinking is good, our decisions are good, our actions are good, our outcomes are good.”

When you look through the Ten Components, I’d encourage you to ask yourself, when did someone last give me the space for all of these elements? When was I encouraged and appreciated, and asked to express my true feelings? But equally when was I asked Incisive Questions which made me question what is and why?

For me coaching is about all of these factors, and the role of a coach is to create a space which enables these to happen. I have recently become part of a Bird Table Coaching group, which subscribes to the Nancy Kline approach and I truly value the opportunity that these sessions give me to work within a group where I feel safe yet challenged to explore questions I have about my business and my practice (not just fellow coaches, in the group is a Pilates Teacher and Will Writer, amongst others). So, if you’ve been wondering what happens in a coaching session, why not give one a try? After all, what have you got to lose (other than possibly 90 minutes of your life!) but you really could have everything to gain…


How does coaching work?

Coaching - helping the client develop and move towards achievement of their goals

Coaching is a client led activity – this means that the coach is led by the needs of the client; what would they like to achieve from the coaching? What is challenging for them at this moment? What about the next time they meet? And what does their organisation want them to achieve and how can we do this together?

Sometimes coaching can be seen as a nice chat, but that’s far from the truth! There are coaching models, GROW the most well-known, there are tools to help move thinking forward and the role of the coach is very much that of facilitator; the coach helps the client develop and move towards achievement of their goals.

For me there are three stages to a successful coaching relationship;

  1. Building awareness; a key ingredient of coaching is the development of awareness. This can be self-awareness, where the coachee gets to understand themselves better and realise the impact that they have on those around them (not always negative impacts, many people don’t’ realise how much they are valued and appreciated and what for). This can also be awareness of what’s happening; what is it about your time management that doesn’t work for you? What is happening in the moments when you feel stressed out in work, rather than coping with everything that’s thrown at you. Often developing this awareness is when the ‘light bulb’ moments of coaching occur.

  2. Understanding; once you can identify what’s happening, coaching can help you to explore why things happen. Why do you get angry with your manager when they say to you “Well done?”, why is it that a three line email has tipped you over the edge of your tolerance, and why do you suddenly feel deskilled when you’ve been doing your job for 20 years?

  3. Developing strategies; from understanding can come action. What can you do to find out what’s expected now? Who do you need to speak to and what do you need to say to them? Are there current job specs available and how do they compare with yours (do you even have one)?

    What do you need to ask your colleague to do to show thanks and how can you ask your Manager to stop making you feel like a child – or how do you learn to live with these things? Or is it time to leave (see my other blog post, There’s Always a Choice).

    Once you know what you want to do, your coach is there to support you in implementing the changes you want to make.

Does that sound like a cosy chat to you? There’s structure, purpose and depth to good coaching and good coaches are trained in the skills that they need to support this process. If you want to know more or discuss this view, do get in touch! You’ll find me on LinkedIn or drop me an email.


What have you forgotten that you know?

question mark

My coaching activities give me the opportunity to see many people develop through their career, some I have worked with at different stages as they have progressed (and as I have been coaching for longer!) and others I meet with at a specific point in their career. Often this is when people have experienced change – change into a new role, new organisation or new context; perhaps their team has been moved into another area, they have a new manager or new demands are being placed on them.

My activities also give me a unique insight into how people cope which such changes at a personal level; are the changes stressful for them? Invigorating? Energising or simply scary? Either way, coaching definitely helps them to view the changes more objectively and to manage them better.

One common theme that I have observed across all these situations is that after change, some people forget some of the skills that have got them to where they are now – perhaps because the demands of the role are significantly different or because their expectations of themselves have changed. It’s a difficult problem to identify – how can the coach know what someone has forgotten if they aren’t aware of it themselves?

For me, it has emerged in a variety of ways; some key questions, such as ‘what else do you know that could help in this situation?’ can uncover a range of skills that someone is not using. Or ‘what would you have done in your former role / life / organisation?’ changes someone’s perspective and helps them identify those learnings that they’ve used in the past but hadn’t thought of as being relevant to their current role.

I’ve seen two great yet similar examples of this with clients in the last couple of years. Both had been promoted from customer facing roles to more senior internal roles, where they needed to influence a range of internal people, who were doing a range of different jobs, spread across the globe.

My clients were grappling with trying to make things happen in a matrix structure; one in which they would be judged on the outcomes of projects but where they had no hierarchical authority over those they were influencing to make the projects happen – they couldn’t simply resort to a ‘just get on and do it’ approach. In both cases I asked just one question ‘how would you have positioned this if you were trying to influence a customer / prospect to get this done?’ Out poured a broad range of effective sales and marketing strategies that they could use to not only influence the outcomes of the projects but to make people engage willingly and positively – strategies which meant that there was no need to be authoritative, simply to treat the internal contacts as internal customers.

This is just one example I have encountered where people have forgotten, possibly even neglected skills that were once so crucial to their success. So, what have you forgotten that you know? And how could those skills help you be even more effective at the job you’re doing now?