Three benefits of being a ‘Mindful Coach’

Here is a mini-script of coaching dialogue with likely ‘coach thoughts’ (referred in the bracket) with her client Susan. All characters appearing in this dialogue are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.

Coach: Susan it is great to speak with you too. So what’s alive for you today (should I have asked her to take a few minutes of silence, no, let’s go with the flow…)
Susan: Things have been good. I have just been offered a new role in the Sales department; I am excited but very anxious. Some days I feel I can do it but most of the days I feel gosh this is not meant to be. It feels great to be noticed and get a new role, but it is new (pause), I have never done it before (silence)
Coach: I sense an excitement that the newness will bring, but also some fear (is it fear? Or should I have stayed at anxiety?)
Susan: It is not fear, I am just anxious
Coach: Silence (Oh gosh, I knew it was not fear, I should have just stayed with anxiety!!)
Coach: (silence) so you feel anxious, what’s beneath this anxiety?
Susan: (silence) I just feel uncomfortable with something new, I don’t know the job well, the people are new as well, most of all I don’t know my boss well, I have no connection with him!
Coach: Ahh, Are you anxious, because you need some stability and safety? (I hope there is an alignment; I hope I got it right; Let me just stay with Susan, let me go with the flow…)
Susan: Yes I need some safety, am unsure how this new department will be. I felt more in control and safe with my old colleagues and my supervisor
Coach: (Phew, Thank God!)

Well, the coach’s self-dialogue can sound something like this, with strong voices that show up faithfully. A coach could think about whether to be with the client completely, or analyse a response, to judge himself or the client, to just stay and flow with the dialogue, or to step in and move to action. There are critical moments of choice; moments of whether to think, do or just be. These choices can be most effective as a coach becomes mindful of the decisions being made or not being made.

Being mindful is not a new concept, it has been with us through religious teaching, scholarly influence, or the Gestalt psychology. It is about being present in the moment, to what is really happening right now, in the body, emotions, and thoughts. It is about just being consciously curious of what’s happening in the moment, and not anticipating future, or ruminating in the past. Mindfulness is about noticing things around you, your thoughts and feelings, thoughts and body sensation. Kabat-Zinn (reference? ) defines mindfulness as paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally. Ellen Langer a Harvard social psychologist, with 30 years research talks of how mindfulness improves performance, health, leads us to be more innovative, and is visible to people that we interact with. Neuroscience research also proves that regularly practicing mindfulness results in strengthening of brain areas which help us function effectively.

Here are three benefits I experienced as I coachmore mindfully
Being a listener:
As I practice mindfulness during my coaching sessions, I notice that I am listening more powerfully not just to the voice, but to the language being used, the body movements, and the tone. Mindfulness allows us to stay with the clients experience and reflect back the soul of the conversation. It allows us to notice what the dialogue is doing to the body of the client or our own bodies, and to call it out loud. As a coach, there are times when I feel the stress on my neck, as the client shares their pain – honouring it and calling it out loud, brings us into a deeper moment of authenticity during coaching.

It is teaching me to be mindful of movements – drop in voice, raised tone, slouched shoulders, tears, and being curious as to what is really happening to the client. I use simple questions like, ‘what is in the tears? As you spoke you clenched your fist, what does that mean for you?

It also pushes me to look at what is being said differently and uniquely not trying to categorise the client into what I have known or a familiar experience. This helps me deal with my stereotypes, biases and suspend my judgements, allowing me to begin to see each experience in isolation

Being authentic:
It has taught me to strive to be more authentic, to work with whatever emerges. I am more intuitive and willing to risk my significance, as I share what comes up for me during the dialogue, like taking a leap of faith. It’s allowed me to freely use my coaching skills, acknowledging, appreciating, asking empowering questions or just staying quite with the client.

Roger Martin, in his book ‘The Opposable Mind: How Successful Leaders Win Through Integrative Thinking,’ states that there is no “right” way and to believe that there is a “right” way locks us into mindlessness. We narrow our focus instead of broadening it, which reduces creativity and openness. In one of my coaching sessions, I felt disconnected with my client, and we were going all over the place. It is at this time that I was mindful of the shift and just acknowledged what was happening in the present to the client. This allowed us to accept what was working and what was not, and to move into a more open and honest relationship.

Being fluid:
I have learnt to go with the flow, to be mindful of what the client presents, to be curious about what lies beneath and how it transforms the client. It is like a river, forming its own direction, making a new path and exploring possibilities that may have been missed. This allows me to look for newer possibilities along with my client.

I also have begun to realise that it’s a journey, to be practiced daily. It’s a skill, that I need to sharpen, as I eat, exercise, pray- just as I live. To watch my thoughts and bring myself to the present. Quite ‘Me time’ has also helped me in this journey, just staying with myself, which many of us are so not used to. I have begun to notice, what’s new with awe, in things and relations around me just taking it in as a gift.

Reflection:

  1. How can you build mindfulness into your daily routine?
  2. Write down three ways you can be more mindful while engaging with your client
  3. How can you share the impact of being mindful with your client?

Sources:

  1. Langer, Ellen J. (1989). Mindfulness. Reading, MA: Addison Wesley.
  2. Kimberly, Schaufenbuel (2014). Bringing Mindfulness to the workplace, retrieved from URL
  3. Martha Lasley, Virginia Kellogg, Richard Michael and Sharon Brown. (2011) Coaching for Transformation – Pathways to Ignite Personal and Social Change
  4. Roger, Martin. (2007). The Opposable Mind : Winning through Integrative Thinking

First published on SHRM

Staying accountable in a coaching relationship

In my first coaching session with Lia, a senior business leader based in Malaysia, we clearly set the guidelines and expectations to be followed in our coaching relationship. She committed to stick to time, and also complete her reflections before our scheduled calls. I noticed that she consistently would come in late on our calls and would not complete her end of the commitment. On the fourth call, when I saw no improvement I was honest and stated how I felt, I shared with her that I notice she was coming in late; pre occupied and doesn’t complete the homework. I let her own her behaviour and the outcomes, as I asked, “How can I help you to make this a priority? What support do you need from me to help you through this?”, was a long pause, and then she shared how she was struggling to delegate work to her team members and was also challenged by the new role that she was working in.

Holding a client accountable is a critical part of coaching which can’t be ignored. Most coaches end their sessions with homework that the client needs to complete before coming in for the next session. This would mean that the client would have to spend time on self-development and reflection to make the following session meaningful. Like the client, the coach also is accountable to ensure that the coaching relationship remains safe and authentic.

Let us zoom into the word accountable, what does it mean? What are some factors impacting accountability? Accountability has been an expanding concept, which is used interchangeably sometimes for responsibility or ownership. It is defined as being called ‘to account’ to some authority for ones actions, which gives the rights of authority to an external person, who inquires on the actions done/not done. It’s like a parent holding a child accountable to cleaning up his / her messy room. (can bring back some dark memories…) This can be experienced as force or ‘power over’ the team member, child, peer etc., which is detrimental to the relationship and the goals to be achieved. It can suck us up into an abyss of shouldism’s and self-deprecating thoughts which makes the change process long and painful.

A deeper level of accountability would be ‘internal accountability’, holding ourselves accountable to the commitments made, which may be seen as a virtue. The motivation here is to discover ourselves, deep within, accept everything we see with love and compassion as our own, and then slowly move in a direction that we want to go, that will help us achieve our purpose.

In a coaching relationship, the coach and client are mutually accountable for the space they hold, the content they bring into the space and the committed outcomes. The coach is accountable to create and hold a safe space for the client, and client is accountable to bring himself/herself in fully staying committed to the process.

Here are four ways I learnt to stay accountable in a coaching relationship:
Be honest: Coaching relationship is about being honest with each other, whether things are going well or going downhill. It requires both parties to be willing to share what they feel at each other’s face rather than behind the back. In the first coaching session, this becomes a critical aspect of the coaching contract. I communicate this clearly encouraging my clients as well as myself to practice authenticity with great love. It means that we can share what we feel and know we will not get hurt; it also means that what we are thinking in our heads and won’t blurt out on a normal day, can be said safely. This helps me to feel safe in the relationship and experience openness with my client. Some helpful coaching questions might be:

  • I sense some resistance, like your holding back something, what is in that?
  • I sense there is some confusion, and feel uncomfortable about it, do you experience that?

Cherish the journey: The coach and the client would be accountable to the journey and not just the final outcomes. Ed Batista, a leadership coach puts it well when he says, a coach needs to be invested in the clients’ success without becoming attached to any particular definition of success. It is about working with what comes up during the coaching conversation for the client as well as the coach. Journaling is an effective tool that is used to help the coachee and the coach slow down and reflect on moments of truth. It is while we experience the coaching moments we encounter ‘soul sparks’ a concept from Jon Mertz’s book, Activate Leadership: Aspen Truths to Empower Millennial Leaders. He defines it as small ignitions of inspiration that fans into big changes, new directions, or fresh work that come from deep down inside. Some helpful questions for reflection:

  • What did I learn about myself – my thoughts, my body, my emotions during this conversation?
  • How can I bring this awareness into every aspect of my life?

Bringing yourself in: The content for development is bought in by the client, the coach shapes the content to bring it to life by using deep inquiry. Both in the relationship are accountable to bring in their content, consciously collaborating to understand the deeper and the transformative agenda. It is important for the coach to understand what the client wants the most, what matters most to the client by being curious about everything that the client offers. The coach brings himself fully, ensuring adequate self-care before the coaching conversation, avoiding back to back coaching calls with no time to reflect, prepare or work with any residue from previous conversations. Some helpful coaching questions might be: Probing questions on content:

  • What is alive for you? What do you want?
  • I know you want to have good relationship with your son, what is important to you about that? How will this impact your life?
  • What are you excited about?

Tough Love: As a coach I have struggled to balance between speaking gently yet firmly in love, as I hold my client accountable. With questions like, would you like me to hold you accountable to this change? I allow the client to choose power over self, to take the first step and not to feel forced at any point of time. It also gives the client time to be ready, to figure out which path they want to take. At times, when I am aware of the possible negative impact on the family/business/team/health because of certain behaviours, I may inquire on what could be the consequence of action or inaction. Some helpful coaching questions might be:

  • What help do you need to complete this?
  • What is stopping you from accomplishing this?
  • How would you like me to hold you accountable to your commitment?

As a coach, I have tried and build greater accountability not with just the client but with the entire support system (supervisor, peers, family members). I begin all coaching relationships by spending some time interacting with the supervisor to understand what their concerns are, and how they can support my client. Whenever I have faced an opposition from the supervisor, I have interfaced with the sponsor and clarified underlying issues. Building accountability is like taking the small steps towards a larger goal that we have for ourselves, as the client or the coach. Our true purpose fuels the fire of movement and of being accountable to our word. This then becomes a hook to motivate and inspire the movement. I would love to hear how you hold yourself accountable in a coaching relationship, as a client or a coach.


Source:
1. Mulgan, R. (2000), ”Accountability’: An ever-expanding concept?’, Public Administration, Vol. 78, No. 3, pp. 555-573.

First published on SHRM

Slay your Giant

Slay your gaintI invite you to walk with me through this story, of a young shepherd boy, with curly brown hair, dusty sandals, leading his flock into the green pastures on a hot sunny day. As he sits down in the shade, he suddenly hears the roar of a fierce lion and is aware of the danger; he quickly picks the sharpest stones aims and kills this creature. One day his father asks him to deliver food to his brothers who were fighting a war against the Philistine army. Here is where David sees the Israelites being threatened by a 9 feet 9 inches tall Philistine warrior Goliath. David walked into the valley alone, with a sling and five stones and slayed Goliath. This historical story has been explored by the business world over time to understand how a disadvantage can be turned into an opportunity, more closely by a bestselling author, Malcolm Gladwell in his book David and Goliath. I move into this story to look more thoroughly into David’s life and what made him successful in this situation. This story reveals David’s public achievements; a life the audience see’s and appreciates, but what was his private narrative? what caused him to be victorious? Here are key character principles that he demonstrates and leadership lessons that can be learnt.

  1. Sharpen the saw, even when you have no audience: David did his job faithfully even when he didn’t have an audience in the wilderness. He had to sit all day waiting on his flock, ensuring they didn’t get lost or hunted down by wild beast. He overcame small local challenges, and when the huge opportunity arose, he was just ready for it. Think of young entrepreneurs, planning and building their business frameworks in a broken down garage, or their homes with limited or no income. Narayan Murthy started Infosys with a borrowed start-up capital of $250 at home (which was his first office). There were tough times of great sacrifice and pruning privately, before success even knocked on their door. Murthy shares how his passion to create new and innovative, drove him to push forward and achieve what seemed impossible.
  2.  Deep sense of self-worth: David didn’t brood over any criticism or insults hurled against him, as he walked into the camp to fight Goliath. Just imagine, a young boy walking into the war zone with no armour and just stones, his brothers must have been embarrassed. But he knew what he was capable of, who was backing him and marched right on. He went in with his familiar gifts (the sling and stones) and triumphed over a giant. Just knowing who Am I and what are my stories, can liberate us from the fear of what others think. Glenn Beck America’s leading radio personalities puts it well as he says, “Sometimes the hardest part of the journey is believing you’re worthy of the trip.”
  1. Not alone: Alone we can do little; together we can achieve so much more. Though it seems like David went alone into the battlefield, but that’s not true. He was well supported by King Saul, who tried to give him the heavy armour, the army and divine intervention, all to meet a shared outcome. Power With, not under or over is the secret recipe to building trust, intimacy and freedom to excel. Lego, a corporate giant lately reported around a billion dollars in profit. At the annual results press conference earlier this year, CEO Jorgen Vig Knudstorp shared the financial report by singing the song fromThe LEGO Movie, “Everything is awesome! Everything is cool when you’re part of a team.” They are about doing things together, planning, achieving and playing!
  1. Higher Calling: David was confident that he was made for bigger things in life as he was already anointed to be a king at a very young age, but he never let this knowledge mislead him. He was daring, was different, and was not willing to be ordinary; he consciously decided to walk into his calling. We all care passionately about something; we just need to build our passions into our learning and daily lives. When we connect the dots between our purpose and what we are really doing, it becomes our unstoppable driving force in the face of unsurmountable challenges. Simon Sinek a leadership writer and Top TED Speaker, shares how starting with a ‘why’ in all we do, not only inspires us but also drives people we lead.

Developing a strong inner man of great character, competence and commitment is the need of the hour, not either, but all three. Choosing one over the other can be dangerous and impact us as leaders at some point of time in our journey. It is important to slow down and reflect; checking what is really my private story that drives me to stand up and defeat Goliath. Source

  1. Expanded story: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Samuel+17&version=NIV
  2. http://www.citehr.com/118434-amazing-infosys-story-how-infosys-born.html
  3. http://www.forbes.com/sites/jordanshapiro/2015/04/18/did-you-ever-wonder-what-lego-does-when-theyre-not-building-bricks

First published on linkedin

Coaching Agenda – Listening like a Cow

Listen Image

I spent my Sunday afternoon narrating the ESOP fable, ‘Snow white and the Seven dwarfs’ to my four year old nephew. He listened intently as I took him into this imaginary world of thick forests and tiny men. It was now his turn to narrate a story, he sat up and began narrating his piece as I tried hard to keep my hands off the mobile. Every time I lost eye contact, he wasn’t sure if I was listening and kept nudging me to listen. I learned an important lesson at the end of his story ‘The Transformer that saved the cat’, that listening is a conscious skill and it takes effort!

As a coach, a critical skill is to listen for not just what the client is saying but going beyond to the unsaid, to inquire what’s really beneath it. It is a psychological phenomenon as described by a semiotician, Roland Barthes different from hearing. Listening is an active process; it is about making meanings of various patterns, some familiar and some unique. Imagine a hunter waiting for his prey, he is not passive, he is actively listening for movement, rustling of the leaves, sound of the wind, cry of his prey or crushing of the dried leaves. As coaches our role is to just receive and wait with complete attention, as the coachee unravels oneself mysteriously before us.

Listening is the ability to stay with the coachee, just being present, without any biases or judgements creeping in. Mary Rose O’Reilly’s in her book, Radical Presence (1998) compares active non-judgmental listening to ‘listening like a cow’, with big brown eyes stuck on to the coachee, and twitching ears. Just paying complete attention to the listener with no urgency to resolve the issue or pass a judgement. Well this is easier said than done, in the mayhem of our lives; stopping and just paying attention can be quite arduous.

Critical listening is a rational process, of evaluating arguments shared by others and putting your point forward. In a coaching relationship, this may be detrimental to the building trust, as the coachee may feel like he/she is being judged and under the scanner. This also puts all the pressure on the coach to consistently have the right answers/arguments which is not at the objective of coaching.

There are three levels of listening in a coaching relationship:

Level 1 – Self-oriented listening: Listening to ‘Self’ is a time where the coach is aware of what is happening within him/her while the coachee is sharing. The coach is watching like a spectator to his/her emotions, thoughts, body language, inner critics, disempowering language etc., building higher levels of awareness and trying to discover what this could mean.

During a coaching session if I feel nervous or anxious, I become aware of my feelings, and try and understand ‘what is the need beneath the feeling?’ This allows me to slow down, and be more authentic in working with what’s present in that moment. Awareness allows choice, and is in tune with what we need in the present, the desire to have a chocolate during the coaching session or just share my intuition with my coachee.

Level 2 – Coachee-oriented listening: This is a phase where the coach listens attentively with heightened awareness of any bias or judgement. From my experience it is in this level, that the coach, paraphrases not just experiences but the emotions felt, ‘You felt hurt, when your team member made a comment about your work’. It is a time, where the coach is listening to the coachee words, body language, tone, emotions, and stays put with the coachee in that experience.

Level 3 – Alignment-oriented listening: At this level the coach, slowly starts listening for what’s beneath the experience, what’s waiting to be born and called out. It’s a time where the coach uses his intuition to lower the bucket deeper into the coachees well, tapping into the insights of the coachee. It’s a time where the coach, listens to himself, listens to the coachee and what’s happening as an outcome of both, which is larger than the purpose we had started off on. It is at this level where the coachee, would discover stronger alignment with one’s own meanings or a deeper realization.

As a coach when I shift across these three levels there is an ease that I experience, of connecting with myself, my client and the metamorphosis that is evolving. I am able to share my intuition with the client, without being judgemental or focused on what the outcome could be, but just trusting the wisdom and authenticity of the relationship to bring its own insights. Floating across the three levels of listening allows for the present to be bought to light and greater alignment to be experienced by the coachee and the coach.

Reflection:

    • How can I listen to myself more clearly and acknowledge what I hear?
    • How can I be fully present during a coaching

First published on SHRM