Friday 27 November 2015

Coaching Supervision

Last Friday, Cumbria Coaching Network's meeting was a session on Coaching Supervision, led by Trish Brady.  Trish led a discussion of the what, why and how of coaching supervision, and then demonstrated a supervisory session, with a volunteer coach, using Hawkins' 7-eyed model.

She also invited us to contribute appropriate questions for the different levels, many of which were extremely helpful in provoking new insights for the coach.

Then on Tuesday, I facilitated a meeting of the external coaches that Newcastle University uses, and as part of that invited the coaches present to share what they had learned relevant to coaching practice, over the last year or so. 

I was struck by how many mentioned the value of supervision. That in itself should not be surprising, of course, as one of the purposes of coaching supervision is to ensure that the coach continues to learn through his or her practice.  But a number of people cited the value of having more than one supervisor, or of having both a single supervisor and attending a group of co-supervisors. 

That closely reflected my own experience over this last year. I have a long term coaching supervisor, the excellent Ann Bowen-Jones, who is both a psychologist and a great coach, and who has helped me learn a huge amount over the years - and continues to do so. 

But this year I have added to that. I have joined a coaching supervision group, in which alternate meetings are co-supervision, and for the ones in-between we invite Keri Phillips to supervise. These have taken my understanding in new directions: the different interests and experiences of the group members regularly surprise me and open up new perspectives.  And more recently, I have established a co-supervision arrangement with Jan Allon-Smith,  as a way for both of us both to improve our coaching practice, but also deliberately learn more about the process of supervision: and again Hawkins and Shohet's work is one of the frameworks we use for that.

All of this has been hugely beneficial in terms of broadening and accelerating my development as a coach; so the upshot of this is simply a reflection for myself, and a piece of advice to other professional coaches, on the high value of multiple supervisory perspectives.

Friday 20 November 2015

The Story of the Unfinished Business...

At a supervision meeting of volunteers I work with, the issue of Unfinished Business was raised. One of the least satisfying parts of our work is that we often never hear the end of our clients' stories. When they are no longer in crisis and no longer need support, our involvement can end. That can be very unsatisfying, and sometimes unsettling: we know we left them on an upwards trajectory, but rarely is everything sorted and perfect.

That issue of unfinished business reminded me of a story a friend told me over dinner a week or so previously. He had suffered from adult-onset epilepsy. The medication he was given had an unfortunate side-effect. He started to suffer from troubling flashbacks/daydreams. These were all of a similar nature. He would remember some past encounter, of a trivial nature, with someone whom he had only met once, when the encounter had ended unsatisfactorily from his point of view. Many of these dated back years, and he had not consciously thought about them since.

One example was a time he had been stopped by traffic police and one of them had been unnecessarily sarcastic, some twenty years ago. But what troubled him was that each flashback ended with an imagined scene in which he beat up the other person. Needless to say, he is not given to violence, nor even to violent fantasies. So he found these flashbacks/daydreams very troubling, and at one stage was having several a day.

He went for a couple of counselling sessions, and his counsellor suggested a very simple idea. He should re-visit each of these encounters in his mind, and re-write the story by imagining an ending with which he would have been satisfied. So in the case of the police, for example, he imagined that he had had a word with the non-sarcastic police officer about the other's behaviour. He further imagined that the non-sarcastic officer had returned to the patrol car and given his colleague some uncompromising feedback about his sarcastic behaviour.

As he was telling me this part of the story his wife chipped in, to say that she had been extremely sceptical of this idea when he returned from that counselling session. It sounded too easy, too simple, to be effective. Yet effective it was!

From the moment he imagined a better ending to each of these stories, which I suppose must have been lurking unresolved deep in his unconscious mind for years, the flashbacks stopped. 

Just when I thought I had completed my book on Story, too...

Saturday 14 November 2015

Singing to Break the Ice

I was intrigued to read the research from Oxford about singing as the most effective way to break the ice with groups.

I read this just as I was starting running a Leadership Programme with the VC at Winchester University, for 20 or so academics and professional services staff. 

So it seemed a good idea to apply the research. The question was, what to get them to sing.  I decided on monophonic (rather than say, barbershop!) music, as I wanted to work within my own limitations, and did not want to spend too long on the exercise.

But I also wanted something that would be challenging, new to them, and relevant. As it was just before Remembrance Sunday, and also because it is music I know well, I decided on the Introit from the Gregorian Chant Requiem. 

It felt a little risky, but I explained to them why we were doing it (ie I'd just read some research) and then taught them the first phrase, word by word. I displayed the music on a screen (and much help that was, I am sure). They entered into it with a will, and one of them made a point of telling me later that she and others with whom she had talked had really liked the exercise.

Encouraged by that feedback, I did the same thing with a similar group in Cardiff, again with the VC obliged to sing along, on Remembrance Day itself. This time, the exercise was greeted by applause. 

To be honest, I wondered if the applause was at least in part an emotional discharge, as I know some people find the requirement to sing in public embarrassing. So I will read the written (and anonymous if desired) feedback from both groups with particular interest. And if it does mention the icebreaker, I will report back here.

In the meantime, this is how it should sound: from a concert I organised a decade or more back with the Schola Cantorum (School of Chant) with which I used to sing in Newcastle.

For the record, it was a wonderful concert. Eric Cross's choir joined us, and sang the Duruflé Requiem, which is clearly based on the Gregorian Chant melodies, with modern French harmonisation. And the way we programmed it, was to put the movements side by side: so we sang the chant Introit, then the choir sand the Duruflé Introit, and so on.

So here is the Duruflé Introit (and the rest of his Requiem, come to that), for old times' sake.

Friday 13 November 2015

Emotions, Thoughts and Meditation

I am a fan of Goleman's work on Emotional Intelligence, and particularly as applied to Leadership (see The New Leaders).

One of the many reasons it appeals to me, is that it starts with the self. Rather than describe what a leader should do or say to others, in order to lead, it starts with the leader increasing his or her self-awareness: noticing, and then learning to regulate, what is going on for oneself emotionally.

However, recently I was talking with a leader I know. He is, I think, a good leader and manages his emotions effectively most of the time, which also enables him to lead others well, in the way Goleman et al suggest. However, he was telling me of a recent occasion when he 'lost his rag' in a senior meeting.  

The occasion was relatively trivial: and indeed that was what infuriated him. Senior people seemed to him to be squabbling about something of little or no consequence. It was silly and it was a waste of time, in a meeting when there was much serious work to be done.

All of which prompted me to think that it is not sufficient to notice and regulate one's emotional responses, important though that may be. Under pressure (or for other less obvious reasons, in this case probably a combination of overwork, exhaustion and exasperation) the emotions may leak out and one may lose one's rag.

So there is a prior discipline: of considering how we are making sense of the world, and doing so in a way that does not lead to us having to manage sudden emotional responses. There are many approaches to this, including CBT based approaches, for example, and my work on Story (did I mention, I have finished the book - there is just a little editing to be done now...?). So as well as the emotional component, we have to attend to the rational. But the other component, I think, is the spiritual: the cultivation of serenity, through a spiritual discipline to match the intellectual and emotional disciplines. 

That, I think, is what meditation has to offer, and why it is being rediscovered as an important part of the repertoire for those seeking to be truly effective. I have blogged before about my own developing discipline, here. I was reminded of the impact that this practice is having once again, when a couple of fairly major issues popped out of the woodwork, and I found that I was not only able to cope with them calmly, but also to feel calm throughout - which meant there was no danger of inadvertent leakage of inner turmoil.

Meditation is one of those things for which we feel we never have time: after all, it feels as though we are doing nothing - a terrible waste of time! But increasingly, I am convinced that investing time in meditating (a little, regularly) is saving me huge amounts of both time and energy.