Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Coaching Supervision

One of the questions that we have been debating at the Coaching Supervision Partnership is the difference between Supervision, and Coaching a Coach.

The Partnership is a group of experienced coaches who have come together to co-design a Coaching Supervision development programme, (accredited by the ILM at Level 7) initially for themselves, and ultimately (potentially) for others, too.

So the question, What do we mean by Supervision? is of course a key concern. Initially, some of us were fairly unclear whether there was any difference between supervision and providing coaching for a coach. But at our second workshop, yesterday, it was evident that peoples' understanding had developed.  And that was largely as a result of our practice in-between the first two workshops, when each of us supervised, and was supervised by, one of the other members of the Partnership.

What emerged was a much greater clarity about the fact that supervision is quite distinct.  In particular, it is about bringing a level of expertise and experience to the conversation.  When coaching, one need not be an expert in the discipline of the coachee;  I coach Vice Chancellors of Universities, for example, but could not possibly do their job. But when one supervises a coach, one needs to be have expertise in coaching - and that changes a lot of other things.

For example, it implies an obligation (as well as the ability) to evaluate the coach's practice and give feedback on that; likewise to focus on the coach's CPD; and to contract with the coach explicitly about both of those as areas of focus.  Further it implies a responsibility beyond the coach - for the welfare of the coach's clients, and for the reputation of the coaching profession.

We spent a lot of time yesterday discussing the various models of supervision that are out there, and it was interesting to reflect that nome of them seemed to focus on this, which seems to us a crucial distinctive of the supervisory relationship.  Indeed, none of the models seemed fully adequate to us - some were good but too limited in their scope; others (the Full Spectrum approach, for example) seemed t
o be trying to be too all-encompassing and ultimately impractical (and in my view, making spurious and overblown claims, too).  So one of the questions or indeed challenges we have set ourselves is to see if we can develop a model (or possibly a set of nested models: a high-level simple one, with detail sitting under it) that we believe to be less inadequate.  Should we manage that, you can be sure that I will report it here (but don't hold your breath....)

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Bad Habits

'Don't look at your hands!' That was my son, Michael, watching me practicing the piano.  It was partly tongue in cheek (and partly just cheek) but also a quotation from his fearsome former piano teacher.

And also very good advice. For he noticed that I had got into a bad habit, and was giving me some timely feedback. The reasons for not looking at one's hands when playing the piano are many, and known to me.  But - as with so many bad habits - there is a short term benefit to doing so: it is easier.

So I have been working on playing the pieces I am currently working on with my eyes firmly fixed on the sheet music, which has been both difficult and beneficial.

Interestingly, it also makes more sense of one of the Oscar Peterson exercises I am working on: the fingering seemed mad to me: it involved moving one's hands dramatically between each bar. There was an easier way to finger that exercise.  But doing it as written, without watching is actually a very useful skill development exercise.

The resonance of that is enormous, it seems to me. So often we adopt maladaptive strategies that have a short term benefit but a long term cost. And very quickly these can become habits,  and then (being habitual) feel the 'right' thing to do. This applies to the way we manage our time (working through lunch breaks to get more done etc), our energy (using caffeine to keep going; skipping our exercise because we are too busy), and even our posture (sitting slouched because it is more comfortable).

And part of the delight of being a father of grown-up children, is having them calling me to order, challenging me to live up to the expectations I have of them, and doing so with great perception and wit!

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Salutogenic coaching

Friday's Cumbria Coaching Network meeting, led by Sue Jackson, was on Salutogenic Coaching. (Salutogenesis is a medical approach focusing on factors that support human health and well-being, rather than on factors that cause disease (pathogenesis).

The main thesis, based on work with people who have survived stressful change effectively, and the work of Anton Antonowski, is that a Sense of Coherence is a crucial factor.  A sense of coherence reflects a person's view on life, and capacity to respond to stressful and chaotic situations.  Sue works extensively with people who have a diagnosis of cancer, which grounded the work in a particular context.

A sense of coherence has three key components: Comprehension, Meaning, and Management.

Comprehension is essentially cognitive, and is about having adequate cognitive resources available to meet the demands placed on the individual.

Meaning is seen as motivational (think Viktor Frankl); that the demands are worth investing in, leading to a new or adapted frame; it leads the individual to engage with the demands. Management is behavioural, the coping/management strategies the individual engages in, so that stimuli are structured, explicable and predictable.

Thus helping people to develop or strengthen their sense of coherence may involve helping them to reorientate their life perspectives, develop the capacity to respond to stressors, and/or set up a different and balanced path to cope with change.

And there was even a four box model (from the work of Sarah Corrie) for me to add to my collection!  The key issue from that being that if someone is low on both resources and functioning, a referral to therapy is normally more appropriate than coaching.

It was a very stimulating and useful morning; and I am interested in how the Sense of Coherence model maps onto others (such as Bridges' Transition model, and my own ManyStory approach).

Friday, 12 April 2019

Another day at the Collegiate...

Yet again, Nancy Kline's Thinking Environment Collegiate Day was profound and thought provoking. We discussed a lot, but I want to focus on just one part of the day.

Nancy is keen to encourage us to explore and expand our understanding of the components of a Thinking Environment. One of the components is Place; and the starting point is that place matters. Place, in fact, is a silent form of appreciation, so where possible, choosing a place that says to people: you matter! is helpful. But Nancy was looking beyond that understanding of place, and thinking about the place where we do our thinking, and the place where we pay attention: that is to say, our bodies. 

So she invited us to think about this question: What is the one thing you know you need to do to ensure that you are saying with your life, "My body matters?"

I was interested in my initial reactions to this question. On the one hand, I was thinking, it's not just my body, but my mind  and my soul, that are important. And on the other, I was feeling a bit complacent: I keep myself fit, exercise well, eat a sensible diet, am moderate in my use of alcohol and caffeine, sleep well, and so on.

But in thinking aloud about the question with a Thinking Partner for a few minutes, I identified four areas that need attention.  One is breathing.  I have long been aware that I have bad habits with regard to breathing, and that particularly affects my singing.  So if I really want to live as though my body matters, I should sort that out.  A second is posture - for the son of an Alexander Technique teacher, I have a remarkably bad habit of slouching; again, something that should be addressed. A third is over-work: I sometimes allow my schedule to get so busy that I practically collapse on my eventual return home from a trip. That, too, is scarcely treating my body as it should be treated. And the fourth is bottling up emotions: I need to find better ways to express and discharge disruptive emotions, rather than ignoring them and pretending that I'm immune to them.

So, from feeling complacent, and that this question wasn't really relevant to me, I moved to a position of insight and commitment: all because someone listened to me thinking out loud for fifteen minutes...

And the question that's intriguing me is about my initial responses to the question. Were they a form of denial, an expression of the lack of importance I attach to my body and how I use it?  And if so, what else am I denying, without knowing that I am doing so?

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

What is not discussable?

Recently I was at a talk at a University by a transgender campaigner. This person (let's say Sam as nicely sex-ambiguous name*) made a very articulate and passionate case for a worldview that included the closing down of discussion, adding passionately: ‘I will not debate my right to exist.

Of course, Sam has every right to say such a thing on a university campus. What disturbed me rather more was that Sam was introduced with such a eulogy by a very senior member of the academic community, that it was clear that it would be foolhardy to express any view, or ask any question, that suggested that one did not subscribe to the ‘inclusive’ agenda as propounded.  But of course, nobody was proposing to debate Sam's existence - that was mere rhetoric. What some may have wanted to debate was Sam’s interpretation of Sam's, and others’, thoughts and behaviour (Sam made a very damning accusation of those who disagree with that worldview).

I find this severely problematic for at least two reasons. One is that the whole trans philosophy seems remarkably ill-founded to me. I don’t know what it feels like to be a man - only to be myself, who happens to be a man. I can see many ways in which I conform to some of the stereotypes about manliness, but many others in which I diverge from them. Indeed, as a boy I was subjected to much bullying for not being ‘manly’ enough. Given that, it is far from obvious to me how I could possibly ‘know’ that I was a woman? And I simply do not believe that it is possible to change from a man into a woman - or vice versa.

And that is particularly true, of course, of the young. We know that we all experience emotional turbulence and confusion during puberty and adolescence. The fact that there has been a sudden, massive surge in the number of teenage girls suddenly recognising that they are ‘really’ boys should at least give some pause for thought. Much of the trans agenda, at least as expressed by some activists, seems to me to be about conforming (or not) to stereotypical ideas of masculinity and femininity. Further, we know a lot about the malleability of the brain, and about social contagion. It is not for nothing that journalists and other commentators are very careful about how they report on suicides: social contagion is a real risk.  But some trans activists seems to be weaponising the risk of suicide recklessly, in pursuit of their agenda. 

Moreover, the whole issue of self-identification is profoundly problematic. To say that some may abuse such a system, whether it is men who want access to vulnerable women in hostels (or even prisons) or teenage boys who think sleeping in tents with teenage girls might be appealing, or not-quite-top sportsmen and athletes who see a sudden route to fame and riches, is to say nothing whatsoever about people who genuinely suffer from gender dysphoria. It is merely a reflection on the venality of some people and it is naive in the extreme to suggest that would never happen.

However, to raise these concerns is to be greeted with the accusation of transphobia: the debate is being shut down. Monday's articles in The Times have already resulted in strident accusations of that thought-crime.

And that is my second problem. I may well be wrong in my scepticism about the trans movement. But if we can’t discuss it in a civilised, intellectual, and coherent way, then I, and doubtless many others, will never be convinced.  We may be frightened into silence (I probably won’t be…) but that is not the same thing - and is in fact very dangerous. And surely, universities, of all places, should be where such issues should be discussed and debated. But so often, in an effort to show how inclusive they are, they have signed up with no intellectual scrutiny to the Stonewall agenda - one that many see as profoundly problematic on this topic. And then, discussion is stifled, as the academic at Bath found, who wanted to research (from a sympathetic viewpoint) those who detransitioned, and was prevented for doing so, because it might bring the institution into disrepute.

The stakes are high. If I am right, then there is a real risk that significant numbers of children are undergoing life-changing surgery, resulting in a life-long dependence on medication, sterility, and little likelihood of relief to their real and profound emotional and psychological distress. If I am wrong, then of course I should be educated - but by real research and evidence-based argument, not by a strident rhetoric, and accusations that I am a bigot for asking honest questions.

* I refrain from using any personal pronouns or other gender-specific language in this account, as on the one hand, I don’t want to be bullied into seeming to subscribe to an ideology that I do not share, but on the other hand, do not wish to be offensive. In passing, I note that in another verbal sleight of hand, ‘preferred’ pronouns are in fact being made compulsory pronouns…

Friday, 29 March 2019

Flip Me!

One of the programmes I'm involved in running is a three day development programme for Deans at Cardiff University. Day one is run by the PVCs, setting the context etc, and I pick up days 2 and 3 (which are some time apart). These focus on a variety of topics, from time management to change leadership and influencing skills.

This year, at the end of day 2, which had gone well, they asked if we could try flipped learning for day 3. For those not in the know, flipped learning means sending them all the material I would normally talk them through in advance of the day for them to read, leaving the day itself clear for discussion of, or practice with, the material, with their peers.

I was in two minds. On the one hand, I was keen to experiment and see what I could learn. On the other hand, I think that one of my skills is making the material relevant and interesting in the way I present it.  Further I was concerned that my handout material probably makes more sense in support of my presentation of the topics, rather than freestanding.

Nonetheless, I agreed to give it a go, and sent out the handout material in advance. On the day, I posted the agenda/running order on a flip chart, reminded the Deans about the primacy of listening (I had introduced the Thinking Environment on the previous day) and then launched each topic with a very brief reminder of the key points in the material I'd circulated.  In a couple of cases, I suggested a particular approach or activity that might help them get the most from the topic and the time, and that seemed useful.

Then it was over to them to discuss it. And discuss it they did: sometimes in plenary, sometimes in pairs and threes.  Some went for a walk in the park to discuss one issue (resilience) whilst others discussed it over a coffee in the coffee area.

It seemed to go very well, and as I travelled home, I got a little flurry of emails from some of the Deans saying how much they had valued the day and the approach, and how well it had helped them get to know each other as well as discuss the various topics.

And not only that, they revealed that they have invented the collective noun for Deans: they are a Forest of Deans.

All in all, a very satisfactory day; and an approach I will certainly try again when the occasion arises.

Sunday, 24 March 2019

Learning from failure

Some years ago, I wrote a post called Blogging About Failure. I believe that we can learn a lot from failure - or, to put it less strongly, from those occasions when things didn't go as well as we had hoped or expected.

Somewhat tongue in cheek, I described that post, back in 2013, as the first in an occasional series.  Well, here is the second.

I am not claiming, of course, that everything else between then and now has gone as well as it possibly could; but there are some situations one cannot blog about, as they involve others who might be identifiable.  And further,  I don't choose to wash all my dirty linen in public...

I am keenly aware that I have blogged a lot, recently, about successes with the Thinking Environment (see posts with that tag for examples), and even with questions about it, at the critical, intellectual level. So for balance, I thought I would describe an occasion a while ago when it did not work as well as I had hoped.

I introduced the approach on one of the year-long programmes I am involved in facilitating, with a view to including some Time to Think in pairs or trios at the end of each day, to enable participants to reflect on the day's learning and decide what to do with it.  But, whilst some found it really useful, others did not.

So what had gone wrong, given how different this was from my usual experience?

I think that the problem lay with me. In introducing the idea, I think I had gone quite quickly, giving only a fairly sketchy explanation, as I wanted to get people into the experience quickly.

This was fuelled, perhaps, by a degree of complacency: this approach had always worked with other groups, so I was confident that it would do so again. So perhaps I was a little too confident, which, along with a sense of urgency, undermined my usual commitment to gain full understanding of, and commitment to, the process before starting.

What was interesting was that afterwards, I asked them to line up in the room, to indicate how useful they had found their thinking session. They ranged from fairly low, to very high.  Then I asked them to use the other dimension of the room, to indicate how closely they had followed the instructions and kept to the rules, rather than simply have a conversation.  That was very revealing: we got a strong diagonal.  That is, those who had stuck most closely to the structure had got the most out of it; those who had deviated the most, had got the least.

Which was valuable feedback: what it suggests to me is that the problem lay not with the approach, but with the way in which I had set it up. I had clearly failed either to make the rules sufficiently clear; or to convey the reasons for following them, at least on this occasion as an experiment, with sufficient compulsion.

So a reminder to myself not to get complacent, but to prepare both myself and then others adequately, if I wish to get the best from a practical session.