Monday, September 20, 2010

Working My Way Down to Clues

My relationship to the world around me is primarily visual. Some of you will happily join me and note that you are inclined to see things rather than hear or touch them. We even use language like “I see.” as a response to a request or comment or explanation. That’s a clue or cue to how to best work with me.

Try to imagine that I not only see the science in this meteorite coming really close to our planet but I find it metaphorically symbolizes getting to the point, narrowing in on an idea, sparking a creative thought. And it’s beautiful.

Now this visual thing can get pretty elaborate. I often find my thoughts (like most of the time) translating words into visual images, or racing through like a 24/7 video tape, or even just looking around for inspiration. I have lots of artwork on my walls: dramatic and complex, tiny and simple … all evocative (for me). I like to read action novels for relaxation noting how I rapidly translate the printed words into my version of the images those very words are describing. It’s just how it is for me.

We are all born with some sort of way to process the world around us. Small children touch, taste, test everything and watch big people … all of the time. When my grandchildren were very small they crawled and I crawled with them … a revelation regarding the world around me. I saw newly what I didn’t know I was seeing when a tiny little girl.

We all process information in all the usual basic ways: visual, kinesthetic, verbal, and auditory. I’m going to add: linear and non-linear, interpretation, meaning, recognition, empathy. It’s all fascinating and doesn’t begin to include personality, morality (ethics) and character. I learned by watching those I admired …visual learning once again.

What does this have to do with coaching? From my perspective, in coaching we don’t need to be complicated or complex … it’s suffices to know that individuals process information in the basic ways. A question can be asked in different ways if we know just this much about our client: “How might (do) you (see, feel, hear, verbalize) the situation?” “What does that mean to you?”

It’s truly important how we speak to our clients and connect to what works for them … the ICF the competency that recognizes this is called Direct Communication. Think about it. If I don’t pick up the clues as to how my client processes information and just push on with a story or recommend a book or expect a particular response … not much is going to happen except nice agreements and a friendly conversation … which is fine but it’s not powerful coaching.

We are now down to clues (the kinds discussed above, for starters). Clues (or cues) are the keys to exploration, discovery, forward progress, the euphemistic “going deeper,” awareness and creativity. Ignore the clues and stay painfully on the surface seeking information, agreement, and a nice experience, maybe even fun. Mostly, the focus of a coaching conversation where clues are missed will generally result in a clients not being challenged or engaged in exploration and discovery. From where could come an important action to take when nothing has been discovered?

The purpose of coaching is to partner with a client in exploring the heart of his/her agenda, to allow that client to discover something new and important, and then to work with that client in designing steps forward in order to act on that discovery and new learning. The client then does the “heavy lifting” while coach is there for support and appreciation.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Some Really Tough Lessons Learned

Over the past month I experienced being “canned” from my NASA work after 7 years. (‘Canned’ is the delightful way one of my clients put it …’fired’ is much too negative.)
In view of that stellar event, I am giving myself important advice: it’s important to collect lessons learned … and here are some of them.

Question for me: Are we coaches ever indispensable?

‘Indispensable’ is not the language of coaching, is it? No, and that’s perfectly fine. Intellectually (logically) we know we’re not. Coaching is a choice involving both client and coach. “I don’t really want a coach” is just as valid and appropriate as “Yes, I think I’d like a coach.” That’s how the profession goes … no co-dependency, always choice. Only people who want (at some level) to be coached are actually coach-able. Agreed?

I’ve been thinking about the dynamics of informing 35+ clients I would not be able to coach them anymore. (In organization coaching when under a contract, the holder of the contract has all the power … that wasn’t me.) The whole concept of ‘choice’ came into focus as did all sorts of emotional reactions from my clients. Let’s go through my list as I see it at this moment in time.

   1. In a 3rd party contractual arrangement, a client is not directly responsible for compensating the coach. In other words, “If someone else is paying, I’m on board!” How difficult is it to imagine what happens to the commitment when the contract is broken? There were extenuating circumstances regarding my ability to approach a client with an offer to continue. Ergo, the choice to be coached is suddenly compromised. And, moving from “free” to “time to pay” is not going to happen often if ever.

   2. Over the many years I’ve coached, when possible I have done my very best to ease the conclusion of a coaching relationship. In some cases, that meant smoothing the road to another coach. In some cases, that meant setting the client up for future success without the support of the coach. In some cases, that meant dealing with strong emotions, often on both sides of the relationship (e.g. anger, shock, sadness, fear, resignation, disappointment). This time an emotional reaction was prevalent and a challenge to manage. I needed to balance my own anger at how this all came down with my deep caring for each client. Clearly, my role was to be calm and caring … every time.

   3. Above all, and of course given coaching is a choice, unquestionably the coach is never indispensable. It is the natural course of our profession that each client will ultimately depart for one reason or another (remember that Coaching Agreement?). Over 18 years of coaching, that moment (however it occurs) is something I’ve experienced over and over and over again. For sure, I’m not now or ever have been indispensable in the life and work of any client. Yet I do have the private pleasure of knowing that sometimes I made a difference.

   4. Coaching self-management also includes the conclusion of the relationship just as surely as any other phase of the relationship. This time, it was the quantity and rapid time frame of the departures that taxed this coach more than ever before. This was new territory for me and not a welcome experience. Yet, and no matter what, I get to keep forever the experience and memories of wonderful people who do great work.

What’s next? Bounce back, engage my creativity, work hard, focus in, and stay out of the “soup of unhelpful emotions.” Sounds like a plan for 2011 and beyond.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Not Becoming Enmeshed

It's well known (or at least considered by most) that life is a series of events that we live through via the stories we create about each event. At least that's my take on life. Think about it ...everything is more interesting that way ... and I mean everything. Even in the absence of much or any information I will fill in the blanks with whatever occurs to me, often a worst case scenario. Thinking of myself as an optimist, I find I must resist that "worst case scenario" stuff as much as possible.

What's even more important is that our effectiveness in life is determined (at least I think so) by how we respond to those events.  It's like a great shortstop (baseball is the game) fielding the ball within nanoseconds and throwing it to the appropriate base.  There's no drama, no emotional indecision for the player.  He simply takes the action. 
What does this have to do with coaching?

One of the behavioral hallmarks of masterful coaching is the coach's capacity to stay out of the client's story ... i.e. not become enmeshed in it. For new coaches, it's nearly irresistible to stay away from getting involved. After all, aren't we all learning how to connect, to create trust and intimacy, to be present, ... and all of those essential competencies? Sure! That's square one. Being friendly, interested, captured by someone else's account of their situation is truly cool. Our clients love us to "get into the story" with them.

At this time in my life I find myself getting enmeshed in my own stories. I'm rather good at not getting enmeshed in my clients' stories. Before you laugh too hard, as I said this morning on a conference call where everyone was talking about all the great things they did all summer, I'm in a perfect storm at the moment. In fact, I'm caught in my own life drama proving once again that we coaches have a seriously great challenge in managing ourselves. 'Wishing' won't make anything go away. Even 'hope' won't do the deed. Good coaching just might.

The other day I had some very good coaching around all this drama ... my very own soap opera.  In looking at my soap opera I discovered that I actually do some things well right now: shred papers, go through files and clothes to donate, mess around with Twitter, fool around in my yard and watch a bit more TV than usual ...oh, and read action novels. Sounds like I don't have much to do and ... you're right! The coaching outcome of this most excellent session was for me to give myself permission to indulge my wishful thinking or frustration for 5 minutes and end it. There's no denial necessary or onerous discipline to this practice except that 5 minutes = 5 minutes.  That's pretty okay with me.

This personal approach derives automatically from how I practice coaching.  I've often helped a client figure out a practice like the '5-minute rule.'  I don't know if a client takes one minute or ten but it's the point of the thing.  So, in coaching you and I cannot, must not, should never become part of a client's story ... like a player in a game or actor in a play.  Our job is to listen for what's being said and not said.  If I am in my client's story, I'm going to miss clues and most definitely those particular clues that can possibly make a difference.  I want to be present, connected, trusted, close ... but not enmeshed.  I have to have room (and objectivity enough) to pick up those clues!

It seems to me that becoming enmeshed is to tamper with the partnership that defines the coaching relationship.  I'll think more about that later.  Of course you may have better or more interesting ideas on the subject.