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coaching, coaching topics

A Coachee’s guide to….. a coaching session

So you’ve signed up for, or are interested in, a coaching session. But what does that actually mean? Do you need to do anything in advance? Will the coach ask me weird questions? Will I end up discussing my childhood? Will I be given lots of homework?

All of these are questions I have been asked when working with a new client!

Basically, each coaching session with me will have a broad overall structure that follows a well-used coaching model called GROW: growth

Goals: We focus on defining a clear aim for the session (or the programme of coaching AND this particular session)

Reality: You tell me about your situation, in your words. I might ask questions that encourage deeper reflection from you, identify any recurring patterns of behaviour, or prompt you to look at the situation from different perspectives. There are no set questions – it depends on you and the situation you bring to coaching.

Options: Depending on your goal for the session we would likely move to thinking about possible options, considering the pros and cons, maybe brainstorming as many as possible before settling on the ones you think are right for you.

Will: This is where we come towards the end of the session and identify actions and next steps on your adventure. This might give you some “homework” but it is entirely up to you whether you do it. I won’t be checking unless you ask me to to help accountability.

This is a broad structure but not all sessions will do them in this order. It is common to got from options to reality and back to options. Sometimes you realise that the goal we started with isn’t the actual goal. And, for people booking the 3 or 6 hours of coaching, often the entire first session is all about Reality and a little bit of Goals. Coaching tends to look forward rather than delve into the past – though sometimes it can be useful to identify any repeated patterns.

It is also important to remember that this is about you. Every session that I do is tailored to your needs on that day. If I ask questions that aren’t helpful for you, or use a technique (ways to organise thoughts etc) that doesn’t feel comfortable, then we will get you moving forward another way (though sometimes a bit of discomfort can make you see new solutions). Not a problem. All  I ask is that you are open-minded and honest in the sessions.

 

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!

 

 

 

Coaching case studies, Imposter syndrome

Imposter Syndrome

Many of my coaching clients want to talk about their confidence to carry out their role. They use phrases such as “I’m a fraud”, “I’m going to be found out” – which tells me that they are troubled by “imposter syndrome” as well as possibly a lack of confidence.

Imposter syndrome is something I know only too well, being a sufferer myself. Certain situations trigger the “soon someone will find out I don’t know what I am doing” thoughts which can rapidly turn into a spiral into the darkest regions of my brain. In general, these feelings are totally unfounded in reality. For me, the trigger was around my capability as an academic researcher – despite dozens of publications in learned journals, winning millions of pounds of funding, and attracting PhD students and researchers to work in my team. All the evidence is there to suggest I am not (or at least was not – given my change in career) an imposter. But there is nothing rational about imposter syndrome – even those at the top of their field, like Katerina Johnson Thompson – world beating heptathlon are vulnerable. Maya Angelou and Albert Einstein also made reference to feeling like they were “going to be found out” or were ” a swindler”.

In fact, imposter syndrome affects people of all ages, all backgrounds, all roles and professions. If you have the courage to talk about it, you will probably find that firstly, people will be amazed that you, yes you, have those thoughts, and secondly that many people you know will also be sufferers. This can in itself be reassuring, but may not be enough to stop the imposter voice preventing you from applying for that promotion, taking that opportunity or having the confidence to do your role your way.

The good news is that whilst imposter syndrome may never go away entirely, it is possible to quieten it down – with practice. A client recently sent me a list of 10 imposter syndrome statements that were playing on a repeat loop. In our session, she picked the one that was the loudest at the time “I’m not the sort of person people want to collaborate with”, and then we spent 30 mins looking at half a sentence. First she identified the trigger situations for the voice to become amplified. Then she came up with the counter-evidence to her unhelpful thoughts – in this case a long list of people  – 2 sides of A4 – who did already work with her or who wanted to work with her, and counter-examples of how those people had come to work with her. Actually writing it down is key here – we needed to get the evidence out in the daylight where the “imposter” voice couldn’t ignore it’s presence. She then came up with a more helpful phrase “There are many people nationally and internationally, at all career stages, who I already work with and who want to continue working with me”.

This type of coaching, replacing an unhelpful belief with a more helpful one, is based in Cognitive Behavioral Coaching. It is perfectly possible to coach yourself in this way once you know the technique, but many people, myself included, find that it is easier to quieten that voice and find the evidence with the support of a coach.

If you’d like to learn more about imposter sydrome, there are some excellent Ted Talks by Elizabeth Cox and Valerie Young.

And if you’d like to work with me to learn how to manage your imposter syndrome – get in touch!

 

coaching, Inspiration

Thinking

henley_rowing
Rowers emerging from the early morning mist on the Thames near Henley Business College. Photo by Ellie Highwood, February 2019

It is often difficult to find the time to think properly.  It can feel like a luxury when there is so much going on in our lives. Some people use journal writing, others art, or music. Coaching is about giving you the time and space to do your best thinking. Your thoughts about your issues will always be the most useful and illuminating. Like these rowers emerging from the early morning mist, coaching can help your thoughts come into the sunshine, where you can use them to move you onwards towards your destination. 

Here are a few of my favorite quotes about thinking that resonate for me in the context of coaching:

“No problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking” – Voltaire

“Thinking: the talking of the soul with itself” – Plato

“Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it” Henry Ford

“There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so” – William Shakespeare

“Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking” – Marcus Aurelius

“Writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers” – Isaac Asimov

Please get in touch if you would like to try coaching as a way of thinking things through. No decision or challenge is too big or too small.

Ellie