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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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, Inspiration

Thinking

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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