coaching

A Coachee’s Guide to….. Coaching

I advertise leadership, career and personal development coaching, but what does this actually mean? coaching-300x274

Coaching has a chequered past. Back in the mists of time, coaching was usually interpreted as being used to develop specific skills – especially sports skills. It has also been viewed negatively as something that is suggested to correct a problem, or is associated with a performance management issue.

Over the past few years however, coaching has developed in a number of different directions. Most overwhelmingly, coaching is now often viewed as part of personal development regardless of any performance management aim. there are the more vague terms of “Executive Coach” or “Life Coach”. Used in very different ways and by very different people, they none-the-less both describe a facilitated process with the aim of enabling an individual to make a change or develop a part of their work, life or both. Coaches are even sometimes seen as a status symbol – part of the entourage that surrounds a successful person. Even coaches have coaches! After all, would you expect an Olympic medal winning athlete to stop needing a coach? No. (And I am not claiming to be a medal winning coach).

There are definitely still sectors where coaching is seen as part of performance management – sometimes in a positive and sometimes in a negative way. Coaching in this arrangement tends to focus on the coachee’s role in the business or organisation and how that person is developing in order to benefit the business.

And there is definitely still skill focussed “coaching” available. You only have to search for coaches on the internet and you will find them for anything and everything from relationships, through parenting, to public speaking, business growth and development. In the broad field of education – my area of special interest, coaching remains viewed as more like training or mentoring in teaching skills. It is changing slowly, at least in Higher Education, perhaps in response to increased workload and stress. As schools combine into Multi-Academy Trusts, there is now some use for  development coaches for the Executive Headteacher and central leadership team. But it is still limited.

I suppose you could argue that I too am offering “Skills-based coaching”. The difference as I see it is that I offer general coaching around the topics of leadership, career development and more broadly personal development. Incidentally, sessions that start off being about leadership or career development often end up being more broad than that. Perhaps I should instead be advertising “Coaching for Leaders, Career Movers and Anyone Who Wants to Develop” – focussing on the people I work with rather than the skills, but it’s a bit challenging to use as a tagline!

Coaching as I offer it starts from my fundamental belief that everyone has within them the power to address their own challenges. I don’t teach you, though you may learn many things. I don’t advise you, though you may make decisions. I merely provide time, space and some thought provoking questions to help you make the best use of that precious time.

 

coaching topics, Work-life balance

Balance or blend?

Work-life balance, juggling roles and responsibilities at work, at home and in the community are topics that often crop up in coaching conversations. Many times they are not the original focus of the coaching, but because I coach the whole person we tend to at least spend some time talking about how work and life fit together. What follows is a slightly modified version of a 2016 post from my blog elliehighwood.com when I was reflecting on my own situation. 

Life may not be a box of chocolates, but could it be a cup of tea?

tea2

The term “work-life” balance is much used and much-discussed. Many surveys and magazine articles discuss whether your “work-life balance” is as you want it to be. In Athena SWAN applications (gender charter mark for universities and research institutes run by the Equality Challenge Unit) we are asked to discuss how the University is supporting “work-life balance”. Typically we talk about core hours, nursery care, and any family friendly policies we have.

However, many people object to the term “work-life balance” itself, and I can see why. Balance implies the two things are playing against each other… increase attention on one and the other must pay. How meaningful is it to imply that we are only alive outside of work? Many people are at least partially defined by the work that they do, or by their actions at work. Others are predominantly driven by the work that they do… and the term work-life balance somehow suggests that these people should “get a life”.

The alternative term work-life blend has been around for a while. The thinking behind the term is that in the modern world, with new technology etc, then for many people it is entirely possible to take care of some work things from home and some home things from work. Of course this isn’t possible for all roles… particularly those in the front line service industries, and manufacturing. The other reason for adopting this term is also that it removes the negative connotations of “balance”. With a “work-life blend” a much more diverse set of existences seems possible, all equally valid, and things are not in tension with one another in the same way (there are however only a limited number of hours in the day and therefore there must remain some tension!). More recently “work-life integration” has started to be used – I am still thinking about what this means for me. 

I have previously been rather resistant to the word “blend”. Perhaps it’s because I was thinking about it in terms of paint… if you mix lots of different paint colours together you inevitably end up with a murky mess that isn’t particularly enticing. I also worry that it means never being “off duty” from work, and I at least need to give my mind and body a change of scenery sometimes and find it hard enough to be properly “present” at times outside work as it is.

However, I might be changing my mind.  In 2016 the University of Reading Edith Morley lecture was given by Karen Blackett, OBE, CEO of media.com. She spoke about having “banned” the term “work-life balance” in her company, using instead, “work-life blend”. Uh-oh, I thought. I’m not sure I can buy that. But then Karen talked about having 6 well defined and non-negotiable strands to your blend, for example fulfilment at work, effective parenting, and such like, and using this to discuss your working practices with managers etc.

And this morning I thought of a new description for “blend”  – a careful combination of different ingredients that are not subsumed by each other but together make up something delicious and supporting. In other words…  my favorite English Breakfast tea!