Coaching and connectivity

Written by James Flanagan on 21 October 2016 in Opinion
Opinion

When we connect, we create the conditions that allow coaching to take place, says James Flanagan.

Self-belief gives people the drive to achieve their potential, self-development gives them the means. Photo credit: Fotolia 
 
Life and fast-moving economic and market conditions requires not only flexibility, creativity and innovation, it requires us to slow down, stop and reflect. Coaching brings forth and nourishes the talents and skillsets within others to achieve this. 
 
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Effective coaching requires more than the application of a technical understanding of a newly acquired skillset – for the coachee it is more than the achievement of outward goals.
 
Rosabeth Moss Kanter, in The Enduring Skills of Change Leaders, states that “change-adept organisations share three attributes: the imagination to innovate, the professionalism to perform, and the openness to collaborate.”
 
She identifies the most important personal characteristics to make this happen as passion, conviction and confidence in others. These are the characteristics, particularly the latter, necessary for a manager to become an effective coach. 
 
Chris Lowney in his book, Heroic Leadership, explains how a manager can achieve this. He identifies four traits: self-awareness, creativity or ingenuity, innovation or heroism and passion. People with these traits know themselves, they think creatively and adapt confidently to a rapidly changing world.
 
Developing these first three allows them to respect the dignity and potential of those around them. It is this trait, the ability to recognise the potential of those around them and how it was developed that is the key to effective coaching.
 
By developing self-awareness, a person opens themselves to the opportunity to rid themselves of ingrained dysfunctional habits. Stripped of these dysfunctional habits, such as judging others on the basis of little knowledge, they think differently and creatively.
 
Freed of limiting thoughts they begin to take risks previously only dreamt of. Transformed and empowered with this self-knowledge they begin to see others differently too, they realise the potential in others. Having taken the journey they understand the route.
 
Developing self-awareness also generates creativity and innovation. Self-awareness allows ingenuity and the necessary confidence to implement changes and the readiness to try something new. If we are more aware of ourselves, we become more understanding of the people we engage or work with. This understanding creates a more co-operative environment. Coaching both supports and requires this co-operative environment.
 
Definition 
Hugh Murray, in Coaching: the Power of Questions,3 defines coaching as “an approach to management in which the manager encourages people to reach their full potential by encouraging self-belief and increased self-awareness.”
 
Self-belief gives people the drive to achieve their potential, self-development gives them the means. Self-awareness is the foundation of both.
 
Coaching is about unlocking a coachee’s potential by helping them to learn rather than teaching them how we would do things and demanding they copy. Coaching makes the coachee responsible for the resolution.
 
Traits
A coach encourages self-belief by encouraging the coachee to dig deep within themselves to recognise their talents and abilities. The aim is to create a virtuous circle in which the individual succeeds and this increases his or her self-belief. The increased self-belief leads the individual to strive for greater success and this builds more self-belief.
 
Encouraging self-belief involves two main elements. It helps people to set goals for themselves that stretch them beyond what they can comfortably achieve but which are within their capacity and achieve those goals by encouraging them to devise and implement their own action plans.
 
The second element is to encourage people to review their experiences and to draw appropriate lessons from them. Coaching encourages them to understand themselves better by providing neutral, objective feedback.
 
In this way, negative or unsuccessful experiences can be used to fuel realistic assessments of the current limits of skills or expertise to encourage more learning and spur the avoidance of similar failure rather than a damaging wound to self-confidence that prevents further attempts to develop.  
 
Components of coaching
Coaches are easy to relate to. They have an ability to listen that goes beyond the average and is called active or deep listening. This enables them to explore an area that might appear initially unrelated.
 
Their questioning is simple, has a purpose and is influencing without being controlling, it is without agenda. The result: the coachee has a different view of themselves and their situation. They feel energised and empowered to take an action that before they would have relied on someone else to do or just accepted as impossible.
 
Julie Starr in The Coaching Manual4 identifies five components in coaching: building rapport, listening, intuition, using questions and giving feedback. 
 
Building rapport helps builds trust, gains buy-in and influence. Its development requires the coach to have integrity, be consistent, open and trustworthy. It is aided by their care of physical appearance/clothes, body language, qualities of voice, language/words used, beliefs and values.
 
Coaches have mastered the art of listening. Clear of dysfunctional thoughts, their mind is calm; their awareness is focused on the other person. While they have little or no sense of themselves, they are lucid and present.
 
They can draw on their brain’s potential to provide guidance and information free from the confines of their conscious mind. Intuition is a very rapid leaping over logical analysis like jumping stepping stones on a fast running stream.
 
They can retrace their steps and use logic to arrive at the conclusion but in the moment of need they can find a faster answer through intuition. It is important to develop intuition and insight, “What do you know that the coachee isn’t seeing that you can’t TELL them but need to get them to see? When did you know that you know it?” As a coach we need to be able to access this subconscious knowledge spotting pattern. Understanding this means the coach can create this context more quickly. 
 
Asking simple, purposeful, powerful questions that influence without control is a talent that can be developed. They refocus thought, tap into creativity and cause forward movement.
Feedback is given with positive intention, based on fact or behaviour, constructive or beneficial; it is specific, selective and sincere.  
 
Four-stage process
Julie Starr describes coaching as a four-stage process. Firstly, establish the context for the coaching. Context includes, the background information to the issue that is being discussed, where the coaching will take place and how the coach intends to engage with the coachee.
 
Secondly, the coach creates understanding and direction, what is the purpose of the coaching and what does the coachee want to achieve? The coach, using open ended questions, investigates the coachee’s situation and objectives and agrees the outcomes they want to achieve.
 
Reviewing the progress achieved by the coachee in their environment is the third stage. The coach does this to achieve the fourth stage, where the coachee feels comfortable and encouraged to make ongoing learning and change and where they feel a sense of support. 
 
Principles of coaching
So how is it done? A manager encourages evidenced based self-belief by encouraging success – a virtuous circle in which the individual succeeds and this increases self-belief, leading the individual to strive for greater success and more self-belief. 
 
Encouraging success involves two main elements. It helps people to: 
 
  • Set goals for themselves that stretch them beyond what they can comfortably achieve but which are within their capacity.
  • Achieve those goals by encouraging them to devise and implement their own action plans.
 
Encouraging self-development has two main elements. It helps people to:
  • Review their experiences and to draw appropriate lessons from them.
  • Understand themselves better by providing neutral, objective feedback.
 
Coaching is defined by intention. If your intention is to help the other person improve their own performance by helping them to think things through for themselves, then you are trying to coach. 
Skills of coaching
There are two main skillsets required of the effective coach. Helping people to think by asking appropriate questions and providing neutral and objective feedback.
 
Asking appropriate questions
The most powerful technique that a coach has is to ask questions that challenge the other person to think. People are likely to need help with overcoming obstacles and evaluating different courses of action.
 
When people come to the coach with problems, the coach must keep the responsibility for solving them squarely on the shoulders of the other person. Even if the coach can see at once how to solve a problem, he or she must not do so. Self-belief comes from things you achieve yourself and so the coach must make sure that the other person solves the problem.
There are several types of question that the coach can ask: clarify, simplify, multiply, will it fly, and do it by. It is not necessary to ask every question in every situation or in any order but the coach should be aware of, and practise using, them.
 
Clarify
Questions that help people to clarify their problem, issue or choices can be very helpful. The intention is to help the other person to think clearly about the issue. 
  • Describe the problem to me?
  • Tell me how you see the situation?
  • What exactly do you want to achieve?
 
Simplify
These are questions that help people see the wood from the trees. 
  • What would you say are the important issues here?
  • If problem A didn’t exist, how would you solve problem B?
  • Can you break the goal down into steps?
 
Multiply
These are questions that unlock the person’s thinking and help them consider a range of possibilities.
  • What other solutions might there be?
  • What else might you consider?
  • If that wasn’t possible, what else could you do?
 
Will it fly?
Use these to help the other person evaluate various options:
  • Do you have the funds to do that?
  • How long will it take you to achieve that?
  • What might be problems you see along the way?
Do it by?
These are questions to help the other person finalise their choices and commit to a course of action:
  • What have you decided to do?
  • When will you do it?
  • When would you like to review progress?
 
Other coaching questions
  • How might you overcome this?  
  • What would the effect be of ignoring this problem?
  • How damaging is this problem to what you are trying to achieve?
  • What options have you considered?
  • Have you encountered anything like this before?
  • Can anyone else help with this?
  • What resources do you have at your disposal that might help?
  • How have you solved similar problems in the past?
  • What would an ideal solution look like?
  • If (one part of the problem) was not a problem, how would you overcome the rest of the problem? 
 
Remember, a good coach listens effectively; helps others to tap into their own inspiration; makes the conversation seem effortless; is impartial and objective; probes effectively; supports someone to achieve more than normal; clarifies the thoughts of coachee; holds the coachee to account, and points to a thread and encourage the coachee to dig.
 
When coaching principles underlie all management behaviour and interactions, the force of people’s potential can be released.
 
Connectivity and conclusion
Coaching is defined by intention. If your intention is to help the other person improve their own performance by helping them to think things through for themselves, then you are trying to coach.
 
By developing coaching as a part of anyone’s management style, those on the receiving end of these skills will be more empowered and find work is an opportunity to develop themselves and deliver more at work. It is good for individuals and for the organisations in which they operate.
 
Coaching requires more than the application of a technical understanding of a newly acquired skillset and, in the wrong head or hands, can be dangerous. Coaching requires connectivity.
Dr Brene Brown in her book Daring Greatly6 talks about the need for authenticity. Authenticity allows connectivity. Connectivity allows people to let go of who they thought they should be in order to become who they really are.
 
We can be coached for the achievement of outward goals: “The new…, or the new work based targets” and achieve them. Or we can be coached to make inner changes, changes that change how we see ourselves and how we see the world. Recognising and overturning personals stones, coming face-to-face with our self and our shadow is difficult.
 
Dr Brown emphasises not only the need to tell the truth about self, but the need to love ourselves through the process. She believes our worthiness is inside the story and to love ourselves through the story and to own it.
 
Let go of what people think and in the process claim ourselves. The truth and the courage to be imperfect leads to authenticity. When we are authentic we connect, we build rapport, and we create the conditions that allow coaching to take place. 
 
About the author 
 
James Flanagan is an experienced practitioner in training, learning and development, communications and change management. He can be contacted at scaoimhin@yahoo.co.uk
 

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