Friday 16 July 2021

No, I'm not a tour guide...

The journey as a metaphor for coaching (or supervision, come to that) is a bit of a cliché. But that's for a reason: it is a very good metaphor. 

But in conversation with Jan, during our final supervision (about which I have already blogged) we developed an interesting twist. We were discussing our reluctance to be seen as the experts who know all the answers (and there's a good and grounded reason for that reluctance: we don't). Yet time and again, people seem to want and expect that, whether explicitly, or implicitly. Many seem to think that we start out with a plan for all of the coaching sessions.

But we are not tour guides. We do not know where the coaching journey will take us. We cannot lead you along a pre-defined path to 'better leadership' or whatever the objective is; visiting the important landmarks along the way in an orderly fashion (If it's Friday, this must be Emotional Intelligence...)

Rather, we are co-explorers. We don't know where we will be going. We don't know what we will encounter. But we are experienced explorers: we can read the terrain, we can use a compass, we have some good maps; so although we can't describe the journey in advance, we do bring value to the process.

And because I like to explore a metaphor, that opened up some further interesting insights. 

In terms of maps, it raised the interesting question of whose map do we use: ours or the coachees'? And the answer, I think, is both.  It is the coachees' world that we are exploring, so clearly their maps are essential. But in terms of the coaching journey we, as coaches, have maps built from our years of experience, so they too may come into play.  Indeed, they may be different types of maps: a coachee's map might be a very precise, detailed, local depiction of the terrain; the coach's might be more schematic, like a London tube map: this line is likely to connect these points...  Or it may be a larger systemic map, or it may be a map that says at the edge 'Here be dragons!' That is, there are places (eg psychotherapeutic territory) where I as a coach would be the wrong guide, and would risk exposing my coachee to danger.

I reached a similar conclusion about compasses, which are an obvious metaphor for the values and principles, or ethics, that guide our decision making. Clearly the coach's values are core to the coach's decision making; but equally clearly, I don't leave my ethics at the door. Like all professions, coaching has a code of ethics to which I subscribe; and my own values also inform my work.

And then, the landscape itself... What sort of journey are we on? Are we hacking through the jungle undergrowth, desperate to survive? Are we out in my beloved Lake District to gain perspective and stretch ourselves? Are we on a pilgrimage?

Thinking of walking in the Lakes also made me reflect on the right preparation. I would not take someone up Scafell without the right kit; so how well do I encourage clients to equip themselves for the coaching journey. I think I could do better here.

So, a very rich metaphor.  And as I was discussing this with another colleague and regular Thinking Partner, the excellent Helen Hatton, she pointed out that it wasn't so much a question of whose map or compass we might choose to use at any point in the journey, as raising awareness with our coachees that there are several available, and that we may usefully learn from many of them.

And one of the practical implications of this metaphor is that it helps clarify expectations with potential clients. For if they want someone to lead them by the hand and tell them where they should go and what they should do, I am not the coach for them.  But if they want someone to join in their exploration, then I am enthusiastic and have some skills to enrich the journey.


With thanks to Mukuko StudioJulentto PhotographyAli Kazal and LOGAN WEAVER for sharing their photography on Unsplash

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