coaching, coaching tools, Self-reflection

What would you write to yourself?

She manages to be a top quality student without being at all boring or a SWOT“. Classic letter writing there from my undergraduate tutor to my prospective PhD supervisors.

Today is World Letter Writing Day! What’s been the most memorable letter you’ve received?

The ones that stick with me are usually handwritten, and these days few and far between. But then I don’t write many either. My grandfather, who passed away a couple of months ago, was really the only person to whom I still wrote conventional letters.

My other memorable “letter experiences” include:

1. My mum writing to me weekly when I was an undergraduate – and occasionally including a “Guiness cake” that was so heavy it cost more to post than to make;

2. A series of postcards and letters from undergraduate students telling me what they were up to after graduating;

3. A letter from a Dutch amateur atmospheric chemist telling me all about his pollution measuring bicycle and addressed to “lady Eleanor”. Accompanied by hand-drawn illustrations.

I have been fortunate enough never to have received hate-mail unlike many climate and diversity and inclusion colleagues, though no-one likes rejection letters and I’ve had a few of those.

I do write letters to myself sometimes (though I try not to make those hate-mail either!). I had one on my wall at work reminding me of all the good things about my previous role. Writing to ourselves can be more effective than giving ourselves a good talking to. What would you write to yourself?

A Coachee's Guide to..., coaching, Self-reflection

How do you know when to end coaching?

This is a really difficult one, but just like other parts of life most coaching partnerships need to end eventually. But how do you know when that is?

Sometimes, it’s clear in the sense that the coaching was aimed at a very particular challenge or issue and the coachee has reached their goal, made progress or at least done enough new thinking to be able to move forward.

Often however, coaching that started out being about one thing, ended up being about something else, and that evolves and needs longer to think about. People who come to coaching because they have reached something of a crisis point often spend some sessions “downloading” their thoughts about their current situation before being able to look at alternatives and options. This can extend the coaching process but is very valuable. However if the thinking doesn’t at some point move on, this can be a signal that something different is needed and that this particular coaching arrangement has run its course. It’s really difficult to raise this as a coach if you know that your client doesn’t talk about the issues anywhere else, but if you are aiming to be useful to your clients, it’s a conversation that has to be had.

As a coach, I generally suggest a minimum of three sessions with clients unless there is a very specific objective for the coaching. This is because there is usually a session where we clarify what the goal is for the coaching and assess the reality of the current situation. The other two sessions are usually used for considering options in different ways and identifying strategies for next steps. Sometimes clients will book 6 sessions to either explore more deeply, or possibly consider 2 or more different challenges. I’ve been working with a couple of clients for nearly a year – but sessions are perhaps less frequent than the shorter term partnerships I’ve been involved in. Perhaps my most fulfilling way of working is when someone does perhaps 3 sessions initially and then several months later comes back for a top-up session to explore what’s happened on their issue.

There’s no set time to think about ending or changing coach but some things clients might want to consider include:

  • Am I using my coach as a general listener and are they the best person to do this?
  • Are the sessions still useful – do they leave me with different thoughts and reflections about my challenges? Or am I stuck in the same thought processes – in which case a different coach might approach things differently and lead to new insights.
  • Would a different professional be more useful e.g. a counsellor, therapist, or mentor?

Most coaches are not, contrary to what you might read in some places, trying to keep clients booking more and more sessions in order to make more income. I have no doubt that there are some coaches who do that, but for me, if the usefulness has ended, then that’s the time to end the coaching. At least for a while.

Just like other endings though, it’s important to end the coaching relationship well. This doesn’t always happen – sometimes people drift away and stop responding to emails, and sometimes it can quickly turn into months since you have heard from someone. This isn’t always a problem so long as it’s agreed that a pause is consciously happening – things come up that mean that someone isn’t in the right place to continue coaching for the time being. Generally I’ll reach out to someone a few times and then try to let them go if they don’t respond. When I do get a chance to work with the client on a proper ending, we’ll look at what’s been achieved so far and plan the next steps. I’ll make it clear how to get in touch with me in the future and I’ll usually ask the client if they want to be kept briefed on offers and updates via email. It’s absolutely fine if not, but some people do.

And then I close the file mentally and physically and wish them well.

coaching, coaching tools, coaching topics

Wheel of Life Exercise

This exercise helps you to identify what you are most happy with and where you might want to make changes.

The Wheel of Life exercise is a way to visualise all the different parts of your life and to balance up how you feel about each area.

Start by drawing a circle-ish shape, then divide it into segments or slices that represent different parts of your life. Typical categories that are used might include:

Finances                                                          Fun

Friends and Family                                         Personal development/learning

Creativity                                                        Adventure

Relationship                                                   Physical environment

Health (including mental wellbeing)              Spiritual

Work / Career                                                 Community

Or you could look at different parts of your working life.

Next, taking the centre of the wheel as 0 and the outer edge as 10, rank your level of satisfaction with each area out of 10 by drawing a straight or curved line to create a new outer edge (see example). You can colour the segments in if it makes it easier for you to visualise. The new perimeter of the circle represents your ‘Wheel of Life’. Is it a bumpy ride?

A wheel of life split into segments for Community, work, finances, my health, family, hobbies. Lines are drawn in each segment current situation and dashed lines for desired future situation.

Then you can start to think about what needs to change to get back to a more comfortable, even ride.

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.

planet-earth-1401465729mTH

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

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