Friday, 14 May 2021

Coaching Evaluation

I attended a very interesting webinar on the evaluation of coaching by Louise Emerson, hosted by the Association for Coaching, this week. I find a lot of things are still buzzing around in my head as a result, so this post is a bit of a 'think-out-loud' as it were, about those.

One is the issue of solely relying on the coachee's perspective when evaluating the value and outcomes of a coaching relationship. Clearly, the coachee's perspective and feedback on his or her experience is very important: necessary but not sufficient.

Louise pointed out that a coachee is not wholly unbiased, nor necessarily the person with the most insight.  In terms of bias, the coachee may well have formed a positive relationship with the coach, which may well colour both what the coachee thinks, and what he or she wishes to say to the coach.  

In terms of insight, coachees are not experts on coaching: it is conceivable that coachees might rate as excellent (because helpful to them) a coaching process that was (from a professional point of view) flawed in various ways. 

At the simplest level, I have, more than once, had the experience of listening to people while they sort out a difficult issue, prompting them with occasional questions, and being awe-struck at the solutions they have created - and then been told 'Thank you!  I always find your advice so useful!'  Whilst I am happy to take the credit, advice is not perhaps the most accurate word; but the process is not important most coachees and they may not attend much to it: it is the outcomes they want.

And there's something else here. Sometimes when coachees have a particular insight, or a shift in attitude, it is easy for them to forget, after a while, that they ever saw the world differently. So whilst the new learning is valuable and embedded, the fact of its being new learning is forgotten. 

So that all suggests that other reference points are needed. One such point may be other people in the coachee's system: colleagues, boss etc.  In some instances that might be appropriate; but of course that needs contracting for (ideally at the start of the process). So that is making me think more about my contracting meetings, and discussing in more detail at that stage how we will evaluate the coaching, both as we go, at the end, and some time afterwards. I already do this, but I think I could do it with more rigour, and in particular, asking who else the coach thinks we could or should include in that evaluation. 

Another reference point is myself, of course. I do have quite a thorough process of reviewing and recording my reflections on my work after each session; so it is about ensuring that I continue to engage with that as an exploratory, learning conversation with myself, not allowing it to slide into a superficial from-filling exercise.

Related to that is supervision. Clearly, this is one of the purposes of my meeting with my various supervisors: to continue to evaluate the effectiveness of my professional practice. However, what I am adding to that agenda is reviewing my approach to evaluation itself, on a regular basis; as well as evaluating the effectiveness of individual sessions or coaching relationships.  That then leads to a rather expanded supervision agenda; for it is not only evaluation, but also things like contracting - and in fact my whole practice framework - that could usefully be reviewed explicitly and regularly.

Something else that occurred to me is that sometimes, at the end of a series of coaching sessions, I am (to be honest) a little disappointed at the coachee's summary of what he or she has learned. I sometimes think they are missing or forgetting learning that seemed really valuable or important. So there is a place for my offering that evaluation at that stage; both as a way of brining it back to the coachee's attention, which is valuable as a learning process; and also as a way of honouring and affirming the work the coachee has done.  Again, I think I could be more rigorous here, and I think that would spring from better note-taking, after each session, so that I can quickly review progress with specific examples to feed back to the coachee.

So, as I said, lots of thoughts to turn into action here: I will discuss these with my supervisor, as I find that one of the helpful ways of holding myself accountable and turning good intentions into action.


With thanks to JĂșnior Ferreira  Charles Deluvio  Aaron Burden for sharing their photos on Unsplash

Friday, 7 May 2021

Creating Videos

A couple of people have commented on the video pre-work that I produce, asking how I do it - as it is not the standard Powerpoint with a little picture of me in the corner...

Rather, it tends to have an opening title slide, then me full screen introducing the topic, then intercuts between me and slides (or videos etc), and so on. My hope is that that makes it more engaging.

The process is a bit laborious (and if anyone knows easier ways to do this, I'll be interested). What I do is record the talking head bit (me speaking to camera) using Quicktime. I produce (or to be more honest, Jane produces) my slides in Keynote, and I then make recording of them (also in Keynote), synced to the Quicktime talking head movie, so all the transitions occur at the right times, and save that as a movie.

Then I create a new project in iMovie and import the talking head and the slides. From there it is relatively easy to edit between the two, swapping between the slides and me; and then top and tailing it with titles, music and so on.  And the result, I like to think, is quite professional.

One of the things I've learned along the way is not to be seduced by the huge array of options (particularly in iMovie). Just as in typography (when they say you should have no more than three typefaces on any one page, apparently) so in movie making: simple is better.  So I always use the same transition in iMovie (swap), which seems to me to work well, as denoting a change in topic, or timing, or perspective. Likewise, I use the same transition in Keynote and the same way of swapping between slides and talking head.  And, as I have mentioned before, I have invested in a reasonable microphone and camera  (these are, in fact, a Rode NT microphone (which we cheerfully refer to as the rodent, for obvious reasons) and a Razer Kiyo camera.)

S0 here's an example: the introduction to one of the programmes I have filmed in this way, to give you a sense of what I'm on about here.

Friday, 30 April 2021

Disclosure Remorse

Sometimes, when someone finally finds someone (say a coach) who is prepared to listen to them... and then listen some more... and then listen some more... without interrupting, without sharing parallels from their own experience, without judging, and without offering advice... well, sometimes they pour out their heart and their soul.  That can be particularly true if there are things that they have been unable to talk about or process in any other forum: so the confidentiality of a coaching relationship makes that particularly likely.

I have experienced that, as a coach, on many occasions, and very frequently in the initial, introductory conversation. Once someone has established that it is safe to talk - that confidentiality is guaranteed, and (I assume) having judged that I can be trusted - it can be a huge relief finally to tell someone just what they are thinking and feeling. At times they cry, or shout. And that is all OK.

And then a curious thing sometimes happens.  At the next meeting, they turn up much more guarded, or sometimes even noticeably uncomfortable. That is what I term Disclosure Remorse.

Interestingly, I don't remember reading anything in any of the coaching literature about this; nor has it been discussed on any of the coaching courses, workshops or masterclasses that I have attended.

I began to wonder if it was just me...

And then I discussed it with one of my supervisors. He comes from a therapeutic background, and recognised what I was describing instantly. Indeed, he also told me that he often discusses this with his clients at an early stage, and invites them to think ahead: 'what will you think, do you imagine, when you look back on this conversation, and think how open and honest you have been - how vulnerable you have allowed yourself to be?'  He reassures them that this is both normal, and valuable in the context of the conversations that they will continue to have together.

That was hugely helpful (and exemplifies one of the many benefits of supervision). So now I have a strategy to address this.

And of course, Disclosure Remorse is completely understandable.  We all have boundaries in place, and often for good reason; and when we cross those boundaries (as, I realise, I reflected towards the end of this post when I had done so) we feel vulnerable, and possibly even some sense of shame. Sometimes that may be wholly appropriate, of course; without wishing to over-indulge in self-disclosure, I can recall times as a student, say, and involving alcohol, when I was quite right to be ashamed the next morning of things I may have said...  But clearly in the context of coaching (and even more, therapy) such shame is misplaced.

So I am pleased that my supervisor helped me to develop an appropriate strategy - and I look forward to trying it out, and seeing if it is, in fact, as helpful as I expect.


With thanks to Tom Pumford  Kyle Glenn and  Christian Erfurt for sharing their photography on Unsplash

Friday, 23 April 2021

The Thinking Council

This week I completed the final part of my practicum and have been duly qualified as a Thinking Environment Facilitator.  That has involved both written work (I did a piece on the relationship between the Thinking Environment and Emotional Intelligence, building on previous blog posts which my loyal reader will doubtless remember) and also practical work: running a number of workshops on the application of Thinking Environment principles to facilitation, as well as both chairing and facilitating meetings according to those principles and practices.

In all of that, the part that has proved hardest, in practice, has been the Thinking Council. The idea of a Thinking Council is to enable someone who is facing a challenge of some sort to pick his or her colleagues' brains, without being given a load of advice. Those who know Nancy Kline, or understand her work well, will appreciate that this is predicated on keeping the individual (in this case the person presenting the challenge) thinking independently, rather than relying on others' thinking.

So the process is that the challenge-holder (hereafter 'presenter') presents the challenge to a group of colleagues or friends, in the form of a question. After an initial round of clarification of the question (not interrogating the challenge, as that will be never-ending...) each participant is invited to share an experience from his or her past that, in some way, speaks to the challenge. One colleague also volunteers to take notes, so that the presenter can listen with that exquisite attention that is the hallmark of a Thinking Environment.

And of course, that's where it gets difficult to facilitate. Because however clearly one explains the purpose and the process, people's tendency is to offer advice; sometimes advice disguised as a question, and sometimes advice disguised as an anecdote. But the problem with advice is that it is likely to be either accepted or rejected (and that may be more to do with the temperament of the presenter, the relationship, and perceptions of wisdom etc than the quality or relevance of the advice itself...) - and in either case, that is less stimulating of genuine independent thinking.

So what I am trying to do, is to get people to notice the advice that they are tempted to give; and then to look behind it, to think about the experiences that inform that advice, and share one of those experiences instead; without adding (implicitly) '... and the moral of this story is...' In that way, I hope, the presenter will be able to consider the anecdote, and draw whatever learning is appropriate from it.

For completeness, the final stages of the process are the presenter feeding back what he or she is taking from the process and is going to do as a result; and then (this being a thinking environment) some appreciation of the presenter by all present.

One of the participants on one of my workshops pointed out how similar this process is to Action Learning; and indeed it is. It is noteworthy that both Reg Revans and Nancy Kline draw on the Quaker tradition to inform their work.

However, there are also differences: one is that the focus in Action Learning (at least as Reg Revans established it) is on group members asking insightful questions, to help the problem owner think differently about the issue and gain new insights (and these questions are answered in the presence of the group); whereas in the Council, experience and ideas are shared (normally prohibited in Action Learning) and any questions are taken away, not answered in live time. I think Nancy’s view is that this maintains the independence of the thinker better (though one could question that).

Another difference is that a Thinking Council is a one-off event for the benefit of one individual; whereas Action Learning is typically a series of meetings at which each participant presents and receives help. In Action Learning, there is quite a strong emphasis on reporting back on actions taken at second and subsequent meetings; there is no such requirement in the Council, and I think that is because it could be seen as infantilising, and therefore diminishing of the individual’s freedom to think independently.  Action Learning is designed as a long-term learning process (as well as a way to work on difficult issues) whilst the Thinking Council is designed to help someone to think better about an immediate issue in the short term.

As you will gather, my thinking and practice here is very much work in progress: I may well blog further on this as I learn more.


With thanks to Christina @ and Leon for sharing their photography on Unsplash

Friday, 16 April 2021

Your Brain at Work


A few weeks ago I blogged about David Rock's SCARF model. At that time, as I said, I hadn't read his book, Your Brain at Work, which introduces the model.  I am now reading it; and whilst I have not yet finished it, I can highly recommend it. In the first place, that's because my friend and colleague, Deiric McCann at Genos recommends it, and he is nobody's fool.  But also I have now read enough of it to vouch for it myself. It is well-researched, very readable, well-written and very practical.

The subtitle of the book gives some good clues about its scope: Strategies for overcoming distraction, regaining focus, and working smarter all day long. And of course, the title gives another big clue.

What Rock has done, is pull together a coherent understanding of a broad range of research into the brain, and create a user's guide. 

He presents it as a series of fictional case studies: a day in the life of Emily and Paul, broken into short scenes that illustrate the problems they encounter in a fairly typical, stressy, day at work. After each scene, he reviews the relevant research and how it might apply to the situation that Paul or Emily has just messed up, and then offers an alternative scene, based on Paul or Emily applying the research intelligently to manage how they use their brain to inform their behaviour, interactions with others, and so forth.  Each chapter concludes with a summary of the key points (Surprises About the Brain) and some suggestions of Things to Try.

For example at the end of Chapter One, which is about Overload, the Surprises about the Brain are:

  • Conscious thinking involves deeply complex biological interactions in the brain among billions of neurons 
  • Every time the brain works on an idea consciously, it uses up measurable and limited resource 
  • Some mental processes take up a lot more energy than others 
  • The most important mental processes such as prioritising often take the most effort 
and Some Things to Try are:
  • Think of conscious thinking as a precious resource to conserve
  • Prioritise prioritising, as it's an energy-intensive activity
  • Save mental energy for prioritising by avoiding other high-energy-consuming conscious activities, such as dealing with emails
  • Schedule the most attention-rich tasks when you have a fresh and alert mind
  • Use the brain to interact with information, rather than store information, by creating visuals for complex ideas and by listing projects
  • Schedule blocks of time for different modes of thinking.
And so it goes on: pulling together, in simple, useable, understandable and accessible form a wealth of knowledge and practical applications. Much of this is not new if you have read around the subject; but some is. And having it all presented in such a well-explained and user-friendly way is very valuable. 

The book is divided into four Acts (each of several Scenes, or chapters) as follows: 

Act 1: Problems and Decisions
Act 2: Stay Cool Under Pressure
Act 3: Collaborate with others
Act 4: Facilitate Change

Whilst the Emily and Paul plot can feel a little contrived, it is nonetheless an engaging and most importantly clear and memorable way of illustrating the points that Rock is making.

All in all, this is an excellent and practical introduction to the key domains of Emotional Intelligence: self awareness, self management, awareness of others, and relationship management. 

It's probably helpful to add a link to the website, that has some excellent blog posts, too.

Friday, 26 March 2021

Working with metaphor

I am increasingly interested in the value of working with imagery and metaphor. In a recent supervision, for example, the coach I was supervising (let's say Sam as that was not the coach's name) was thinking about a particular client (whom we can call Alex, on the same basis). 

Sam wanted to think about how to support Alex's growth and development, following a very difficult time at work. Rather than get into the complexities of Alex's situation, I asked Sam to hold the questions she had in mind lightly, and think about a metaphor. Sam thought that might be difficult, but in fact one came quite quickly. It was of a chrysalis, with a butterfly struggling to emerge from it. The environment is adding to the difficulty; leaves or twigs or something making it all harder. And it has been pouring with rain, so everything is wet.  The sun needs to come out.

We played with this quite a lot and added the wind as another potential help in the environment, as it might dry things more quickly.  I invited Sam to consider the wind and the sun as elements over which Alex might have some agency, and that proved a helpful line of thought.

Finally I asked what new story might be coming to mind, and Sam answered: Even aware of the fragility and vulnerability of the butterfly, Alex takes off.   Sam said she was finished at this point so we moved on to review the process.

Sam had found it 'really lovely – refreshing.' Sam now had a much clearer sense of how she wanted to work with Alex in their next meeting, and was able to hold that lightly.  And Sam was clear that the metaphor, and the way we developed the story together, had brought all the salient elements to the fore, far more quickly than just talking about the situation would have done.

And that strikes me as fairly typical of how metaphors work. Sam's choice of metaphor, and then the consideration of how the environment might help or hinder, and where Alex's agency lay, all cut straight to the heart of her thinking about this relationship.

So now I am wondering how to take that further.  I mentioned in a previous post that I am currently learning a poem a week. And poetry, of course, is rich in metaphor. So I am considering how to use more poetry in my work. And in discussing that with my supervisor, she reminded me of the work of David Whyte, a poet who uses poetry in organisational contexts.

So I am not quite sure where this will take me: I am thinking of running a workshop on Poetry and Leadership, starting with some reflections by me on a couple of improbable poems that I think (by analogy) might stir up interesting and valuable insights in leaders (or coaches or leaders), and followed by a small group discussions of the possibilities of this idea.  Let me know if you are interested.

And in the meantime, here's David Whyte:


With thanks to Bankim Desai for sharing butterfly photos on Unsplash

Friday, 19 March 2021

Emotional Intelligence and the Thinking Environment

I blogged recently about David Rock's SCARF model (which is one approach to Emotional Intelligence) and its links to Nancy Kline's Thinking Environment. In this post, I consider the Genos EI model  (about which I have also blogged previously) and its relationship to the Thinking Environment (about which I have blogged very frequently!)

The first of the six EI competencies (in the Genos model) is self awareness. It is fairly clear how a leader who is being coached in a Thinking Environment style, which involves ever deeper reflection and the questioning of assumptions, is likely to develop better self awareness. Not least, as one of the questions repeatedly asked in a Thinking Environment is 'What more do you think, or feel, or want to say?' That invitation to consider feelings as valid and important parts of the leader's data is both simple and powerful. Unacknowledged and unexpressed emotions are not only blocks to good thinking, they are also often significant blindspots. Bringing them into the conversation certainly enhances self awareness on many occasions.

However, it is less obvious that such coaching will support enhanced awareness of others (the second competency). It may do, of course, but equally, it may not.  And the same seems to apply when considering the other four competencies: authenticity, emotional reasoning, self management and positive influence.  Each of those may be developed in a Thinking Environment coaching relationship; but there is no guarantee that is the case.

I was thinking about this in a Thinking Partnership conversation with a colleague, and had got this far. So I was starting to conclude that the links between the Thinking Environment and Emotional Intelligence were rather less obvious and more tenuous than I intuitively imagined. Fortunately, I asked my colleague for her views as I got to the end of my thinking. She pointed out that I was thinking about only one way in which the Thinking Environment might apply.

If one considers leaders who are not only the beneficiaries of a Thinking Environment for their coaching, but also start to be practitioners, applying the principles and practice in their workplace, the picture changes dramatically.

Leaders who genuinely listen to others and help them to develop their thinking are certainly likely to enhance their awareness of others and their positive influence. The practice, if taken seriously, includes striving to embody all ten components of the Thinking Environment.  That certainly requires and develops self management: not least the need to refrain from interrupting. And such leaders, genuinely listening to others individually and in teams, is likely to become much better at emotional reasoning: that is, factoring in all those human dynamics when considering different possible courses of action. And I think the practice of self awareness and self management, informed by that enhanced awareness of others and emotional reasoning, is likely to develop a more genuine authenticity in Leaders. I think that last may be the weakest link, but I think it's a reasonable hypothesis.

So all in all, I think my intuition was well-founded: there is a strong link between Kline's Thinking Environment and Emotional Intelligence: it was merely my initial framing of my exploration that threw me off the track for a while.  I will, of course, continue to think about this (both on my own and with colleagues) and may post further musings in due course.


With thanks to Kelly Sikkema for sharing her photography on Unsplash