Things my Coach taught me.
My coach taught me to ask great questions of myself and of others. My coach challenged me to move from the comfort of years of experience, age, expertise and gender and challenged me to draw on resources that would best support change. Rather than staying with the simple, safe and convenient places that had generally worked well (but imperfectly), my coach encouraged me to understand that change need not be as hard as I had first feared it might be. My coach helped build my own coaching skills, through the application of skilful questioning and by allowing me to test concepts such as the ‘Mind of The Leader’ and the ‘Development Pipeline’. Above all, my coach taught me to ask the leaders I worked with three transformative questions. They were:
- What might this change look like for you?
When coaching an executive or providing brief therapy or advice, I am often struck by the complexity of situations that people find themselves contemplating. Good leaders do not suffer much from the absence of good intention, nor do they have the luxury of only dealing with one problem at a time. Mostly they deal with these things quite well but what often causes them to ‘get stuck’ is energy-zapping self-doubt and procrastination. This can sometimes be caused by the trap of not visualising alternative pathways, by not reframing seemingly intractable obstacles and by an inability to articulate what any proposed change might look like. It may also reside in not asking what it is about this new possibility that either excites me or fills me with trepidation. According to my coach, the trick was that no answer is immediately required; contemplating and reflecting on the question is the important thing.
The coaching question you might ask: “What might this change look like for you?”
2. How might you want things to be different, this time?
I informally coached the parents of a soon-to-be thirty year old who was reaching a life milestone. As thirty-somethings can often be, he was not looking forward to a celebration of the event saying glumly, “they have always been pretty shit up until now, I think I will pass on this one”. Apart from advising that any call to pass was entirely the prerogative of their son, I know that my coach would have suggested that a reasonable question to ask of the son might have been “Okay, so how would you like things to be different, this time?” Here it is really important to leave the question hang. Leave it as a question, rather than a call to arms. According to my coach, ‘the complainant’ is just one type of advice-requester who can be quite tricky. While they appear to be very keen for you to offer a full range of solutions and suggestions, none of them quite fit…. they can never fit!
The coaching question you might ask with complainants: “How would you like it to be different this time?”
3. Is what you are doing, thinking or choosing to believe, likely to nourish you or deplete you?
This is a question that never ceases to lose interest or value for me. Yes, we can all eat, watch and engage in things that really are like putting contaminated fuel in our emotional engines. And yes, it is not just fatty food. Think of those TV shows where the push for ever-increasing horror and gore can leave us feeling empty rather than entertained. For my coach, the response to this question was, to say the least dichotomous. The behaviour, thought or belief in question either ‘nourished’ you or ‘depleted’ you and there was not much room in between. Now my coach loved a glass of wine and loved to laugh, so in this sense the question is not meant to be asked from a puritanical position.
The coaching question you might ask: “Is what you are doing likely to nourish you, make you better and grow, or is it going to deplete you?”
Again, in posing this question to someone there is no great discussion required; quiet reflection is enough.
Vale Marie O’Sullivan
Our dear friend Marie and colleague “Muzz” has died.
She was a special person to at least two generations of my family and will be sadly missed by all who worked with and were coached by her.
Marie will also be remembered by the staff of Coyne Didsbury and Personnel Decisions International (PDI) where as Director, Psychologist, Coach and Mentor she contributed to the career and personal development of all our staffand shaped the careers of a legion of Australian Psychologists. Her sense of humour, ethics and love of all things different meant that those she guided and assisted were changed forever.