I have been coaching people and developing facilitators & leaders for the last 20+ years. In formal and informal ways. There are real questions that are alive in my heart. And how challenging can paradoxes be for many of us- until we see that they can be delicious. I love to explore the edges because they take me into the unknown which has a freshness.
Let me pose some questions for you, dear reader, to reflect on. This post is coming into being as I have been invited by the Association of Mumbai Coaches (AMC) to conduct a session – on the internet (Zoom) and then in-person. I felt it would be good to spark some thinking and even feeling & being.
Have any of these questions crossed your mind? And what would be your response to them?
1. What is the boundary between being a friend and being a coach- we end up learning from each other in a friendship, is there space for coaching here?
2. Does Coaching have anything to do with healing? What is the distinction with Mentoring? Do you see the connections with teaching, loving, with sport?
3. What is the role of the heart, the body and breath in coaching? How about spirit? What are the essential skills, states of being of a Coach?
4. Is Clarity always an ally in coaching? What are its limits and shadows?
I mention some examples from my recent coaching conversations with names modified to honor confidentiality.
Some of the paradoxes I have encountered in coaching that you may like to reflect on are:
The fundamental Paradox:
Learning or Coaching
Needless to say, any coach would agree that we need to learn as we coach. It is not easy to have a beginner’s mind since the title of a coach comes with its baggage and at times an ego also. How comfortable are we, as coaches to be honest and vulnerable? Truly learning together is rare. I remember once I was caught in my tracks when a participant in a program I was facilitating pointed to how I was not listening. I had taught him deep listening. It was a humbling moment. How would you respond? We often teach what we most need to learn, is it not?
Yesterday I was coaching a wonderful lady, Anita who was grappling with a newly recruited senior manager reporting to her delivering much below what she was expected to. 3 to 4 on a scale of 10 is what she said. Anita’s senior and her team said that this new recruit must be asked to leave. Anita, however wanted to give her a chance. As we navigated the territory, what became apparent was that there was a need for Anita to awaken the coach in herself – that was her learning edge – to make her new team member shine. The shift from simply managing to coaching. And my challenge was to enable her to be a coach. To learn to shift in my own life and work to bring in he being of a Coach vs. just a problem solver, quick-fixer etc. Life and relationships are such a mirror to discover ourselves, to learn as we coach. Anita saw the hidden blessing in this adversity and decided to take on the challenge of shifting her new team member from 3 to 8. Even if the shift happened to 6, there would be a precious journey for both and in turn for me as I coach Anita.
I am reminded of an earlier blog post, The Zen Story of 4 horses- When learning & teaching gets difficult …
Other Paradoxes & Edges:
Witnessing or Engaging
I often ask this question: Do you feel its more important to engage deeply or witness. I guess we know the “right” answer is ‘both’. And yet, have you noticed if you are able to be engaged in a detached way or do you get caught in the story of the client. I have noticed times when there is a state of flow and the question of witnessing or engaging falls away as it all seems to be unfolding almost on its own. Have you noticed this? And equally noticed the fragmented state when the flow is absent.
Clarity & Vulnerability
On two occasions I coached people who coach others – professionally- they both who held the view that Clarity is vital. And when I asked the question, “Is clarity opposed to confusion? Is confusion inappropriate?” The answer was ‘Yes’ in both cases. As we looked deeper, we discovered that profound clarity welcomes confusion, a sign of being on the edge of the unknown. And great revelations happen only with our willingness to not know. And stay with that difficult uncertain moment which we normally fill up by talking. A good question to reflect on is: How much at ease are you with confusion when it arises not only in the client, but inside you – and can we be vulnerable about our feelings?
Another senior leader I was coaching a few days back, Sunita had this challenge of a team member, Deepali’s capability on the face of it. But as we explored deeper we saw Deepali grapple with low self-worth. And there was clearly a need to make her feel safe. In the course of the conversation, Sunita felt that she could be vulnerable and share some of her challenges in the past.
As we stayed with it, and looked inside the situation and ourselves, it was apparent that there was a vulnerability in the present situation itself. While Deepali needed to learn to perform more effectively, Sunita needed to enable performance. Both were challenged. It was seen that if Sunita gathered clarity and courage to honestly share her own struggle in inspiring Deepali, the two could together look at it. And Deepali may even be able to share ways in which she could be enabled, thus enabling Sunita!
I had once written about Standing on the edge of another’s awkwardness without invading or avoiding. Standing there, truly helpless in a way, we mirror the other’s helplessness and often something beautiful is seen freshly if we can sit there in what may seem like a fire.
Leading or following
The fundamental wisdom of Coaching is to allow the client to take the lead, to not advice but evoke, to not rescue but enable. And I ask, have you tasted a place where the separation between the coach and the client vanishes and sometimes you speak from that oneness- as neither and both. What may appear to be advice may actually be a revelation that is expressing itself through you. Its about timing, presence and letting go of all ‘shoulds’.
Structure or free-flow
Structure always helps to keep the session in track and yet, it can sometimes constrict the flow. Do you tend to follow structure or prefer free flow and honoring what is emerging. How do you decide? I find that holding and embracing this paradox helps me to offer the best to the client and also come away nourished.
With the recent Coach for Life certification that was gifted to me, I am learning to honor and see the beauty of structure so that both flow and structure can be in harmony.
What are the other paradoxes that you have encountered?
Two last questions worth reflecting on are
- What has been that one wonderful Coaching-Learning aha! moment that has stayed with you?
- What is the one challenge (possibly recurring) that you encounter (it could also be a positive leap that you would like to make, not necessarily a difficulty)?
Fellow-coaches, I would love to hear your reflections that arise and any insights that you have had. Do leave your thoughts, feelings & any questions in the comments on this post (button at top of the post next to the title) – it will help us create the session together. I look forward to our Zoom session today and then the one in-person on 15th April 2017.