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coaching topics, Self-reflection

Who am I? Identity, purpose and role.

Intro – I coach a lot of academics. Higher Education in the UK is going through some very tough times at the moment. Many institutions are looking at cuts across the board. If you are facing possibly not being able to “be an academic” either temporarily or longer term and are wondering how you can be “you” in other roles, I hope my experience over the past year may be useful and always happy to talk with you individually. If not, thanks for reading anyway!

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So, it’s now more than a year since I left my employed roles as an academic and HE leadership team member. There are lots of things I could talk about having learnt over that year – not least the fact that even if you plan for scenarios A to E, scenario F with a global pandemic and 3 months of home school (so far) will be the one that hits you. But one thing I worried about at the time was what would be my “identity” once not an academic? Who would my “tribe be”? Where would I fit in?

As it happens, my new tribe revealed itself fairly quickly. Thanks to a few key individuals who were already free-lancers I have found a very supportive community on Facebook, and some more local ones through meeting people in a co-working space and in some networking groups. Also a group of us who did our coaching training together are finding our way as “coaches” together. But my “identity” has been a whole different thing – and is still a work in progress. Definitely not a Hungry Caterpillar situation where you  “eat” all the courses and training, disappear into a cocoon of personal development and emerge with a fully fledged beautiful new identity.

I should say here that identity and identity politics is a fascinating and complicated discipline in its own right and can often imply very specific things as in gender, sexual orientation, politics, race and ethnicity. We also describe our identity or identities in our social media profiles “Diversity and Inclusion consultant, Coach, Parent, STEM Ambassador” etc.  What I mean here is closer to the second set, the “identity” that we use when we complete forms that ask our occupation, or introduce ourselves to someone new. The very practical and day-to-day experience as a person. And specifically my tendency  to equate “occupation”, “role” or “job” to being a significant part of my identity. I know not everyone does this (my husband would not consider his role as a local government officer as a strong part of his identity), but I do know through the people I know and work with that it’s a particularly strong association for academics, teachers, doctors, nurses and many other so-called vocational professions. (I also recognise that my tendency to do this for myself could lead to bias/assumptions in how I view others and I am ever watchful of this)

Nonetheless, a year ago I needed new words to define myself on forms and at meetings  – I still have to resist the urge to start my introduction by saying “I used to be an academic” or “I used to work at the University of Reading” which is a) defining myself by saying what I am not and b) conflating who I am with what I do. I am a little allergic to the word “consultant” due to experiences in previous organisations – though I still use it, and a lot allergic to the word Executive (as in Executive Coach). But again, I’m defining myself by things I am not.

With hindsight, I don’t think I was even asking myself the right questions. The role of “academic” or “freelancer” is only part of my identity – it’s how parts of who I am present themselves in the world where I need to earn an income and be able to fill in forms that ask for my occupation. My true identity is what is really at the core of who I am (some of it I am comfortable with, other stuff less so) and what the external expression of that is. It’s figuring out the complex relationships between who I am and what I do.

The more meaningful questions I’ve worked on are “What is my purpose?”, “What are my values?” I’ve come to realise that these are the things that are constant – to help others develop, to make the world a fairer place, generally believing the best of people at least initially, expecting perfection from myself despite being more forgiving with other people (those nearest and dearest to me may disagree with that one), kindness, authenticity, love of learning. These things ARE my identity – and that identity can be expressed in roles and job titles in many ways. As an academic, as a free-lancer, as a volunteer, and as… well I don’t know what in the future!

My coaching supervisor has been known to challenge me to stop worrying about what a coach is and just be one. While I can see her point, I do think a little thinking about who I am has been helpful. But endless reinventing and reflecting can lead me at least to procrastination and stagnation. So now it’s time to get on and BE me.

Edit / update: It has been rightly pointed out that for many people, being themselves is not possible due to systemic and institutionalised racism, homophobia or other prejudice and discrimination. I therefore recognise the role that my white privilege plays in being able to write this blog and do this work. This underlines that developing and maintaining an inclusive mindset is always a work in progress, as well as the additional importance in making sure coaching is available to ALL in academia – not just those who know how and who to ask.

 

coaching topics, Self-reflection

Using Values to Understand Behaviour and Choices

I hate shouting. I hate being shouted at and I hate it when other people are shouting at each other. It makes me feel sick and shaky. I tend to withdraw and back away both physically and emotionally. It affects the rest of my day and returns to me at night (or more likely 5am the following morning). Some would consider this an over-reaction, and I know that other people don’t react in the same way as me.

I have an extreme reaction to shouting (even when I am not directly involved) because it is in conflict with three of my Key, or Core, Values – those of “Respect”, “Kindness” and “Calm”.

After my children were born, I went through a spell of anxiety and depression, as do many. I was encouraged and supported to work through some exercises to try to understand what triggered the worst of these episodes, which is where I came across the concept of core values.

My core values are respect, integrity/authenticity, kindness, helping others, learning, reflection, curiosity, hard work, calm, and independence. The strength of any individual Value ebbs and flows, but they all tend to be there to some extent. They help my sense of identity and guide some of the choices I make. They also give me the words to explain why I make certain choices (why I became a coach for example).

Understanding my own values, and that everyone has their own values which may or may not be similar to mine, also helps me understand my response to various situations and to “dampen” down unhelpful (to me) responses. In the shouting example, I wouldn’t say I didn’t still feel horrible, but I will be telling myself “OK, this is clashing with your core values so you are going to find it horrible – it doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world”. Followed by “just because to me shouting is disrespectful and unkind  – and these are things that are important to me – they may not mean the same things to those involved so they probably aren’t doing it to deliberately cause you pain”. If I were more closely involved in the situation I might say (usually afterwards): “I hear your frustration at the situation, but I really value respect and to me shouting is not respectful and therefore it makes it hard for me to listen/ understand when you are shouting”. It doesn’t always stop the shouting because my response may clash with a “self-expression” Value for someone else, but I do feel like it gives me more power over my response to the situation.

Understanding some of my other values  has helped me understand why  I get frustrated with my 10 year old – he is still very much at the stage at which Values start to form but he certainly does not currently share my “hard work” and “learning” Values – though we share more of the “kindness” and “helping others” Values. It is an open question as to how much it is advisable to try to pass on my “hard work” and “learning” Values to him on a daily basis (especially during home-learning situations) but helping narrow my frustration down to the conflict with these specific values helps me move away from feeling like I am generally frustrated with him, which in turn makes for more positive interaction the rest of the time.

Only recently have I come to realise how strong my values of “integrity” and “authenticity” can be. They have shown up in 2 big ways over the past few years.

  • I had a colleague who would say completely different things depending on who was in the room. For example they would be very supportive of my ideas 1-2-1 but when I presented the same ideas in a larger meeting, they would pick them to pieces and explain why they were wrong. This was annoying – but it gradually struck me that it wasn’t the picking apart per se that was the problem, but the change in tack from the 1-2-1 to the larger meeting. In other words the lack of authenticity in that person. I stopped valuing their opinion so much and moved to work with others whenever I could.
  • My new career relies on me building relationships with clients, both on the coaching side and the consultancy side. This includes writing content for social media. I started a bit haphazardly to write some articles from a very formal standpoint, and others from a more relaxed, personal perspective. Guess which ones brought me both more satisfaction and more engagement from others? Showing up authentically gives me energy, joy, and hopefully clients! I am working in a way that is aligned to my core Values.

Finally, a note that it isn’t always necessary to understand where those Values come from – they are usually a combination of life experiences, peer influences, cultural background. I have some idea of where some of my values come from, but I don’t focus on this (either positively or negatively) most of the time. It’s enough to name them and understand how they influence my responses and choices now and moving forwards.

If you’d like to find out more about Values and how I use them in coaching sessions, you can find that in this blog.

A Coachee's Guide to..., coaching topics

A Coachee’s Guide to….. Values

Your Values represent what is important to you in life. Knowing your Values can help you understand what drives you, what you enjoy, what inspires you and what you would like more of.

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I often use Values as a framework in coaching sessions where the coachee wants “something to change” or “something to be different” or feels that “something isn’t quite right”, and often when they say “I don’t know what it is exactly but…..”

Understanding your values may guide you in the choices you make, or help you understand your responses to situations. For example, if you value family you might try to spend more time with them, if you value independence you might feel overwhelmed when you don’t have your own space, or choices are made for you.

Understanding the values of those around you, can help understand the differences in the way people behave or respond.

Knowing how your personal values overlap with the values of your workplace can help motivate you and find more fulfilment at work, or find the “right” place to work for you.

It’s important to remember that some values tend to be quite stable over time, whilst others may change. For example, at the start of your career, success and finances or adventure might be your Key Values. At other times family or friends might be more important. Your Values can also be situational eg. what’s true for you at work may not be true for you at home.

So how do you identify your values?

Many coaches, particularly Life and Career Coaches use value identification exercises and lists of “example values” can be found using a straightforward google search. However, these lists can be quite intimidating and some psychologists feel that they “lead” people to fall into certain typical values.

Coaching questions that might start to identify values include “What’s important to you about this situation at this moment in time?” or “What makes this the thing that you want to work on now?” I have two more structured ways of identifying values that I use in coaching.

Firstly – the word based version – typically I would present coachees with a list of common values (some examples might be “learning”, “family”, “success”, “health”, “respect”, “curiosity”, “career”) and ask you to fairly quickly identify up to 10 words that stand out to you. Then I would ask you to identify the top three – sometimes imagining that you have to pack a case to take away with you and can only fit three in. Sometimes we might even identify the top 1, but often your top three is the most useful to work with.

The second option is one that I use with people who prefer images to words. There are two slightly different versions of this.

20200113_100534 In a one-to-one face to face session I might use a set of cards with images on and get you to select those they are particularly drawn to. Although the cards have words on the reverse, these aren’t always what you associate with the picture so I tend not to turn them over! (For example, these images to me represent calm, curiosity, independence fun, warmth and knowledge – but they probably mean something totally different to you!)

 

 

balloonFor an online coaching session, I might ask you to do a bit of pre-work  find images from the internet, magazines, photos etc that you are particularly drawn to. During the session, you would share those with me over a video call and we would work to understand what the images mean to you and what insight you get from thinking about them into their values. (For example, this image represents both “reflection” and “calm” to me, as well as “independence”.)

Once you have identified your Values – we then look at whether these give any insight into what “isn’t quite right” or “needs to be different” or helps you make choices or decisions.

My own experience is that identifying and reflecting on my Values has given me a sense of identity and an understanding of why certain parts of my previous role left me buzzing and exhilarated whilst others left me drained. Knowing my Values has also helped shape what I do now as a coach and diversity and inclusion specialist. Finally, it helps me understand my own response in some challenging situations… but that is a whole other blog post!

 

coaching topics

Control – getting a grip or letting it go

I have at times been called a “control freak”. It’s not been meant as a compliment (though there are some situations where being a control freak is absolutely a good thing – health and safety, etc etc). I had not heard it for a couple of years, but in the last couple of weeks, those I love, with the best of intentions, have let me know that they will be using this term again shortly unless I change my behaviour.

I hate feeling “out of control”. The reasons for this are complex and many, and generally in the realm of therapy rather than coaching, so I’m not going to go into them here. Suffice it to say that when we have such strong feelings about this type of behaviour, it is usually a combination of experience of negative outcomes of being out of control, internalising other people’s opinions and views on “control”, and fear of strong emotions or strong display of emotions.

When I feel things are “out of control” – there is a physical change in me – i don’t breathe properly, and I find it impossible to sit still. My brain function changes – I forget things, I can’t focus. My behaviour changes – I don’t listen as well and I tend to communicate much less well with those around me. My defence mechanisms are well and truly triggered. To try to bring things back “under control” I make endless lists, I take on even more responsibility for more things – because it is “easier and quicker to do it myself” and I hover when other people are doing things to make sure they do it “right”.

In coaching I often use the “Circle of Influence” with clients who are experiencing this type of challenge.

Influence circle

The basic idea is that we all have things we worry about but only some of those things can we influence. And even fewer can we control. We work to assess where all our worries and concerns actually fit in order to reduce overwhelm, “let go” of things that will never come under our control and understand that at best we may be able to influence them, or usefully “get a grip” on things that we are worried about that we can control (hint, there are fewer of these that you think and it’s usually limited to YOUR behaviour, YOUR response, YOUR words, YOUR actions).

What I realised I was doing in the past couple of weeks as a defence method was to try to expand my Circle of Control into things that are, in reality, at best, in my Circle of Influence. For example: I can control whether I order food for delivery – I can’t control exactly when it will arrive or exactly what will be in it (though I can influence this by specifying substitution or not). Obsessing over  delivery times just resulted in frustration when timings slipped due to demand on the suppliers and wasted time that could have been spent doing more fun stuff. Likewise, I can’t actually control how much effort my 10 year old puts into his school work. I can try to influence in a variety of ways, but at the end of the day even if he stays sat at the table, I can’t really control what he writes, unless I do it for him. As an educator I know this behaviour is at best unhelpful.

It is always easier to coach others than to coach yourself but this week I am trying to focus on visualising the circles when I start to feel like the “control freak” is looming. Asking myself whether this is really something I can control, or whether it is something I can at best influence, or whether it is even something I need to be concerned about (I find letting go of things entirely quite difficult) is turning out to be somewhat useful. With practice, I may be able to push the unnecessary control freak away for another few years.

(Interestingly, though I hate feeling out of control, I love rollercoasters. Perhaps this is because my trust in the laws of physics means that I know that from that point of view I am not really out of control bar genuine accidental machine or human failure).

 

A Coachee's Guide to..., coaching

A Coachee’s Guide to…. Systemic Coaching

Sooner or later, within most of the coaching conversations I have with clients, the influence of things external to them comes up. Either this is the influence of family, friends, work, their physical environment, finances etc on the decisions and thoughts they are having, OR the potential influence of the work they are doing on themselves on others. This usually happens naturally because most people do not exist in a vacuum – even if they feel alone.

This part of coaching has a fancy name – systemic coaching. At it’s simplest, this means paying attention to, and perhaps exploring gently, the “system” around the coachee. Questions such as “Who do you have around you that would support you in what you are trying to do?”   “What or who that is important to you might also be affected by what you have learnt/decided?” A coach might ask these questions in order to allow the coachee to make sure they are prepared for any things that might sway them from their actions, or to encourage the coachee to think about accountability and broader support. We know that the coachee’s progress is in fact more significantly affected by the external environment (including other people) than it is by our skill as a coach! What we have to do is explore that external environment with them and help them develop strategies to face challenges to progress when they occur.

In leadership and work performance coaching, the consideration of “knock on” effects on the wider environment, or the external pressures on a particular individual or decision are essential but can bring additional insight to the coaching process. One client of mine was working on developing his team leadership skills having moved to a position where his team were mostly distributed around the country. Discussing different ways of communicating some information, I asked the questions “How do you want your team to feel when they hear your message?”  and “What do you want them to know when they hear your message?”. My coachee paused and reflected for several minutes (which is always a bit nervewracking to hold silence but I know that this is what works for home) and then came up with answers to the questions and dramatically different ways of communicating his message. Work is ongoing but this more direct “systemic coaching” type question was certainly useful in that situation and I will use those questions again!

Sometimes a coach might use some more formal “systemic coaching” techniques.  These can include “constellation mapping” – using objects to represent the various parts of the “system” that the coachee sits in and moving them around according to the work being done. Identifying your personal “Board of Directors” is a good exercise for individuals – especially those in new roles or those wanting to feel more confident in their lives. Who is your “cheerleader”? Who is your “expert”? It’s a bit like growing a network but the purpose of the network in this case is to support you and your development.

Often I see parallels between my coaching work and my former world of environmental and climate research. With systemic coaching – this is really clear. With the environment, we may come up with a solution to fix one thing e.g.  a dam to provide water for a large city, but if we don’t consider the impact of changing the water course for the surrounding reason, we will end up in trouble of one sort or another. The same is true for most coaching situations.

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Goal setting, Inspiration

Goal setting – what matters is what works for you

I spend many Saturday mornings sorting out goals….

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Every January we are bombarded with goal setting tips, ideas and examples, for work, for health, for life. It can feel overwhelming, and I certainly sometimes feel “peer” pressure to set goals. However, I am not always in the right frame of mind to set goals. If I set goals because I “should”, then the goals are rarely the ones that are truly meaningful and I rarely meet them. I need the right environment to set my goals, and it has to be the right moment. Admittedly it is inconvenient when this moment occurs on the school run or when I am doing something for the kids, so I am not saying I have to stop and do it immediately – more that my brain has to be open to that type of thinking. This year it HAS come together in January, but it doesn’t always.

Also, I don’t always write my goals in a certain way or format, and they definitely aren’t always SMART (Specific, Measureable, Acheivable, Realistic and Time constrained) in any way that would be recognisable to a project manager. This year, my personal goals have taken the form of two sets of images that mean things to me. The first is about my aim to be “fitter, stronger, healthier and happier” by this time next year  – and some ideas of how to get there, but the precise meaning of the terms is broad. This image is on the wall by my bed so I see it at least twice a day. I will also print a wallet sized card to carry with me.

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The second goal, or resolution, is actually represented by a “word for the year”. This year, my word is “Energy”. We have a tendency in my house to focus on tiredness and I would love to focus more on energy (in the hope of creating some). Also, I recognise that my “energy” or mood affects others and so by changing my own attitude I might influence other people. The images for this word represent things that hopefully will top up my energy bank.

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I am backing up these “goals” with a habit tracker reminding me to drink more water, move more, get more sleep and say something positive to my loved ones every day. All things that should contribute to my aim and relate to my word of the year.

Whilst images are inspiring for my personal goals, my business goals for this year seem to feel stronger when written as words and lists, and are definitely SMART-er.

What matters is having something to aim for, whether you call it a goal, a mission or a resolution. Words, images, numbers, feelings, the “right” way to do it is whatever works for you. The things described in this blog feel right to me for this year. And that is what will give me the best chance of achieving my goals.

Happy New Year!

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!