Saturday 24 November 2018

The Idiot's Guide...

Many years ago, before the days of the internet, I compiled a set of notes for myself which I kept in my filofax (remember those) which were essentially an aide memoire of all the various models and theories to which I referred in my training (again, this was before I was coaching... dim and distant days...).  The idea was that occasionally I would say something like 'remember Maslow's hierarchy' and then my mind would go blank and I'd forget one of the levels; or similarly, 'there are four key points in Harvard's model of negotiation' and then I'd struggle to remember one of them; in which case I could flip to the guide and relieve my distress.  I jokingly titled these notes 'An idiot's guide to training jargon' - self-deprecation being the house style at that time. And I was fascinated to find that other trainers, seeing me use the Idiot's Guide, were keen to own a copy.  For a short while, I produced and sold a few hundred.

After last week's session on Ikigai, Jane and I found ourselves talking about it on a long walk over the weekend, and reflected on the way in which having a new model to think about provoked new and interesting insights on old and well-worn themes. That then led us to talk about the value of re-visiting old (but not-recently-contemplated) models in search of similar stimulation - and that reminded me of the existence of my old Idiot's Guide. It was fascinating to re-visit it, and remind myself of theories and models that clearly seemed important to me twenty years ago, but which I have not re-visited for a long time (when did I last think about Vroom's Expectancy Theory, for example?)  So we are currently putting all this into electronic format, so that it is readily available on the phone that has replaced my filofax as the lodestar of my business life.  

And of course it is fascinating to see what I want to add: there are so many things that I have learned since then, and which seem to me to have more utility and more accuracy than many of the models I used to use. Out goes NLP, in comes the Thinking Environment; out goes MBTI, in come the Big Five and the Hogan Assessments; and so on.

And of course, reflecting on utility and accuracy reminded me of that four-box model I devised about stories, and blogged about on the Shifting Stories blog a while ago. So I decided to develop a four box model to categorise all these models, as follows:

All fairly self-explanatory (though I leave it to you to decide which models fit where) with the possible exception of the label 'Bohr's Horseshoe.' That refers to an anecdote I often use when introducing a useful but perhaps not robustly-researched model to academics.  The story goes that the great physicist, Niels Bohr, had a horseshoe over his back door for good luck.  When challenged by his friends, 'Niels, surely you, of all people, don't believe in that superstitious rubbish!' the great rationalist replied: 'No, of course not! But I'm told that it works, even if you don't believe in it...'

Saturday 17 November 2018

Coaching on Purpose

Karen Mason
Today's CPD event at the Cumbria Coaching Network was led by Karen Mason.  Intriguingly, it was called Coaching on Purpose, and I went therefore, to shed my habit of accidental coaching...

What Karen really wanted to explore with us, of course, was how we coach clients who are wanting to clarify or define their sense of purpose; and for this she introduced us to a model apprently drawn from the Japanese understanding of Ikigai (which may best be translated as raison d'ĂȘtre... or what Viktor Frankl might term meaning, in its most profound sense)

The model is very simple, and similar to one I have used for career transition coaching for years.  However, it has one additional circle.  My model considers Aspirations, Strengths and Opportunities. The Ikigai model shared by Karen has What you Love, What you're Good At, and What you Can be Paid For, which are closely analogous. But it has an additional circle: What the World Needs.

So a few questions arise, of course.  One is whether the labels I have used are more or less useful than the different, but analagous Ikigai labels. A second is whether the additional consideration of What the World Needs is valuable.

In our discussions at CCNet this morning, some felt that last consideration was too daunting: what the world needs is no Donald Trump or Kim Jong-un, someone suggested; but that is beyond our capacity to influence.  Others suggested that we might re-formulate it to be What Our World Needs, but others felt that was losing something of the meaning of the model.

For myself, I think one can choose to focus on the question in ways that are helpful rather than unhelpful - and indeed one could have an interesting conversation with a coaching client about whether they are choosing to answer the question in ways that are within (or potentially within) another circle - the one Covey refers to as the circle of influence. Focusing our attention obsessively on things that distress us that are outside our circle of influence is a great way to disempower ourselves.

For me, the overlaps of three circles, omitting a fourth, and their descriptors, were suggestive: these could almost serve as a diagnostic tool in some contexts: what is lacking from your Ikigai that is making you less fulfilled than you could be?

In the practical session, co-coaching using the model as a starting point, my co-coach and I both found the model stimulated interesting and thought-provoking conversations, though we took some licence with how closely we stuck to the content of the circles.  So I will play with this a bit more, think further on it, and possibly, in due course, unleash it on a client...

Sunday 11 November 2018

It's About Time

Our clock was in trouble: the second hand was rubbing against the minute hand, causing the hands to stop moving (though the pendulum was still ticking). So I had to bend the second hand up a little, and the minute hand down, and then wait a minute to see if the second hand could move past the minute hand freely; and in the event had to do that a few times (I was anxious not to over-do the bending, of course). 

And each of those minutes, waiting for the second hand to go all the way round, in order to see if it was now clear, felt like a long wait. Just 60 seconds - a long wait. But it was 60 seconds of forced inactivity. Think how long today's two minutes' silence for the dead felt.

And yet, when distracted by an article in a journal, or social media, I can easily find that twenty minutes have gone by.

This is not a new reflection, of course: that our experience of time is very variable. But it struck me anew today, and got me thinking about various aspects of my work and life.

One was the value of stopping; making time to slow down, get off the helter-skelter of busy-ness, and focus on one thing at a time.  I have blogged before about meditation (see tag...); and that is certainly valuable in this context: if you really want to slow time down, try twenty minutes of contemplative meditation! But what is interesting to me, is that when I am in that more reflective mode, it carries forward into other contexts, and they seem less frenetic, and calmer, too.

I am also reflecting on the number of coaching clients who say that one of the real benefits of coaching is being forced to stop (or at least, slow down) and take the time to think about the important issues. Perhaps that is one of the most important things I do as a coach: give permission for that, legitimise that, impose that...

And of course, those words 'time to think' take us back to Nancy Kline's work that has had such an impact on my coaching and facilitation practice.

The militant approach to listening that Nancy champions is always in service to helping the other (and oneself) to think.  But time is a major requirement for that, and that seems such a big ask in many organisational cultures - which is one of the reasons (I think) that truly making time to listen has such a big impact.  We all know what it means when somebody has no time for us; this approach communicates just the opposite.

And one more thought comes to mind: E F Schumacher (of Small is Beautiful fame) observed the paradox of labour-saving devices: the more such devices are prevalent in a culture, the more everyone rushes around...  So things like turning off the mobile (or at least the alerts!) walking where possible, rather than driving etc, putting space in our diaries between meetings, having a proper lunch break with a colleague or two... all these are ways we may be able to slow the pace a little, and possible improve the quality of our thinking, our relationships, and our lives.

Saturday 3 November 2018

On Self-Disclosure

I am currently reading Behind Closed Doors: Stories from the coaching room. It is a collection of essays introduced by Eric de Haan, and as its title suggests, reflecting on the experiences of coaches working with their clients.

It is fascinating and thought provoking. The essay I have just finished reading is Does Self-Disclosure By Me Help My Clients? It describes the journey of a coach from being very client-focused (and non-self-disclosing) through experimenting with slightly clunky self-disclosure (sharing commonalities etc), and then progressing to a rather more sophisticated 'self-as-tool' style of self-disclosure - reflecting to the client what is going on for her in the session in live-time.

The coach is clear that this is proving very beneficial; and (not surprisingly, for someone who has been studying with De Haan) sees the relational aspect of coaching as extremely important.

I can relate to all of that, and I can think of occasions when I have used 'self-as-tool' types of disclosure in ways that have seemed very beneficial to the client (and also gratifying to me: the client typically valuing my insight and occasionally my courage on such occasions).

That, of course, sits in marked contrast to the Time to Think approach to coaching, in which I have recently qualified, and with which I have been experimenting for some time now. In that model, the goal always is to keep the client doing his or her own independent thinking. Self-disclosure would be a wholly inappropriate intervention in that model (unless explicitly invited by the client, and even then, only after the client had got as far as he or she possibly could on his or her own.)

The question, then, is whether the self-as-tool disclosure is more useful for the client than interventions designed to keep the client thinking for him- or herself. And finally, the answer is that we don't know: it's a philosophical decision - what is one's coaching philosophy?

So as I muse on this, I reflect that there are many considerations. In the first place, it is about contracting: what kind of coaching have I contracted to deliver to this client? Beyond that, there is a judgement in the moment (or on reflection pre- or post-session) about what will be most valuable. And that is based on that difficult-to-pin-down quality of intuition. 

And even as I write this, I remember my earlier concerns about collusion in the Time to Think model, and the fact that the criterion of Information in the Thinking Environment not only gives permission, but also places an obligation, on the coach to provide necessary information; is self-as-tool disclosure such information?  But perhaps that is just to re-state the problem in other words. 

For the moment, then, I will hold this as a question under consideration; notice when (if) it arises in my coaching practice, and discuss it with my coaching supervisor.  And I may report back on this blog in due course.

And in the meantime, I will continue to read Behind Closed Doors: the next chapter is on humour, which is the reason I bought the book in the first place.