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 have you forgotten that you know?

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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?