There have been a number of coincidences which are clarifying for me what is life is inviting me into. At least 6 to 7 specific signs – all in the space of a month.
The session with the Association of Mumbai Coaches was intriguing. I never cease to be amazed by how and how much silence opens up the unknown, an intimacy with what is- and our ability to see that which is obvious, yet hidden. It slows us down. One of the participants at the end said it was a meditative experience. And I realised, yes, it was a conversation with loving silence.
Just before this session I met a young, bright and wise being with whom I have been having morning conversations, which are like creative meditations for a few weeks now. A jugalbandi (co-creation), a flow of ideas, a birthing of something simple, beautiful, effortless. Friendship, coaching and learning together in which the line between the coach and the learner is there when it is, and also falls away as we experience a seamlessness.
A few months back, I participated in a beautiful journey of “Being at full potential” led by two wonderful professionals who are now friends & colleagues, Sujith & Mark. There were many things that were valuable but what stood out was how might we work from the heart.
One morning I felt a calling to offer a Radical Coaching journey of 9 evening sessions of 90 minutes each on the Zoom web platform. This enables people to access from wherever they are in small doses some taste of my emerging lifework and for me also to learn.
Recently, a CEO friend who is a powerful coach himself and a connector of possibilities & people, a bit like me – invited his friends who are CXOs, authors and an expat also to an evening to have a taste of what he felt was my unique approach. I have had the joy of learning and coaching together with him.
There were some beautiful insights I had during the session.
One of the participants who is a friend asked, ‘What is radical coaching as different from normal coaching?’ And I started looking at it closely. And from the experiences I am having I am attempting to share.
1. Honouring and Questioning hard-wired principles :
In the beautiful ODA-CFL (Organisation Development Alternatives – Coach for Life) program, I visited some of the simple and profound perspectives. In one way or another they had been a part of practice and coaching – and yet there were some that got deepened. e.g. Staying with what can be appreciated. Not advising and problem-solving for the client. Coaching is different from Consulting or Therapy. And more.
I realised that the way I coached honoured the essence of each of them but not always the form. The spirit not the letter. For example,
– Making eye contact : Traditional Coaching wisdom says the coach must maintain eye contact with the client. And while that is valid, knowing when not to maintain eye contact to give clients the space to meet themselves in the privacy of their own being is vital. Sometimes eye contact is intrusive, sometimes it brings a much needed connection and sometimes not making eye contact enables a much needed disconnection.
– Evoking, not advising : Certainly rescuing the client by problem solving and advising is not good coaching. And yet, I have found myself hold that ‘should’ lightly and consciously, lest it become a rigid concept. When a coach is in seamless flow with the client, inside that oneness and being space, what seems like an insight may come from the coach’s speaking. The idea is not to be present and sense is there an ‘invitation’ to reveal. Is what is coming not from a need to rescue and fix but a genuine voice of loving truth.
I have found there are five fundamental skills (which are also attitudes and states of being ultimately) that a coach needs to master:
- Deep Listening
- Authentic Speaking
- Questioning from Wonder
- Spacious Silence
- Wholehearted Appreciation
This is the science but the art is how and when to use each of these and the simultaneity of their presence. Apart from this paradox of honouring and challenging Coaching principles, there are several other paradoxes and edges in Coaching that need to be embraced like coaching & learning.
- Mirrors and Vulnerability :
In the session with the friends of the CEO coach who I have walked with closely, one of the participants volunteered to be coached. My coaching “process” that is held lightly in the background involves a synthesis of many dimensions that have come alive in my life from some great bodies of work :
- Gently penetrating deep (Deep Diving) : Using questions and silence inspired by the work of Mike Jay
- Seeing what was hidden (Freshly Revealing) : Harvesting what has emerged in the initial 10-15 minutes
- Learning Together (Mirroring the Learner): Here the coach reveals how the issue which has emerged is somehow alive or has been faced in his/her life. The mirroring with vulnerability opens up a beautiful space for learning together. This is partly inspired by the work of Byron Katie but also has a twist that is uniquely the essence of my lifework.
- Observing the process (Helicoptering the Process) : Now we step out of the content and learn from the ‘how’ of the coaching/learning process- what worked and how.
- Discovering next natural step (Robust Action) : As the session comes to an end, the Coachee unravels the action that will be taken to experiment with insights that emerged to bridge the knowing-doing gap.
It was quite interesting that as I allowed and this friend welcomed deep long silences, he started accessing deeper layers of his issue. We moved from the general to the specific, from a 1000 feet to 10 feet to see the texture of the terrain. And when that was seen, a lot of clarity happened.
What was a revelation for me was that by the end of that half hour of intense reflective process each of the 14 people in the room were touched. Each person saw a connection to what is alive in his life – the answering to an inner calling, the dealing with the question of your money or your life! And a lot else.
Out of this was born the possibility of group coaching and learning together. If there were 3 to 4 people and each was willing to learn, each would somehow also coach. While there would be one person holding the space, inviting inquiry, allowing silence, multiple mirrors would reveal layers of reality. And this synergy would also help the journeying together supporting each other. The coach then is the life, the presence that is palpable in the togetherness.
- Listening, Silence and Wonder :
It is interesting that the word LISTEN and the word SILENT are made from the same letters. And the word ENLIST is also hidden in both. Of course this can be dismissed as a coincidence. And yet, the profound connection between the two and also how that enables an enlisting into what is true and valuable happens.
Earlier this week, a friend reached out to me who was grappling with finding deeper meaning in his work. I met him early at my favorite Joshua café walkable from my home. And I was all set to demonstrate and experience together with him the beauty and power of these skills and the process.
Guess what, that day I had to learn to let go of my sacred process. And simply meet my friend where he was. He spoke and shared from his depths. I would occasionally ask a simple question and a deeper layer of his pain would emerge. By the time we ended, he had revealed aspects of his life that were intimate and had not been stated initially.
He had felt safe. As I listened, he listened to himself. As we were silent together, something from inside opened up. We were left in a state of wonder, even gratitude.
What helped me was the fact that I was Observing myself, him and the whole space and I could let go of my attachment to follow any process- even my own which had always worked magically. What was happening was too real to be captured by any structure and yet there was an underlying rhythm, a silent grace that was palpable. We were both left nourished.
One of the mantras I have learnt is: Observe, Observe, Observe. Another one is Accept, deeply honour and meet what is arising. Precisely where and how it is.
- Real, raw, alive :
One of the aspects of what I call radical coaching is that it is not really ‘Coaching’ in the way it is normally understood. It is a real, raw conversation with life. With truth and love. The life that is here in the relationship. To allow the togetherness to shape what is wanting to happen. To be patient, to be courageous, to not hurry to a clichéd response but wait for that voice to arise that is ever-fresh. To trust, to meet another in places that I may not have met myself but am willing to be naked. Perhaps that is place of real power because it is utterly vulnerable. It cannot be predicted, owned, orchestrated or manufactured.
There is an appreciation here and a willingness of a braveheart to encounter that which has not been seen, heard, felt. That which we want to avoid, resist, deny is now here. The lost child, the wounded adult wanting a shade under the tree of your heart. Without knowing how it may be provided, you walk the first walk every time- familiar in the depths of your soul and yet paradoxically unknown in this blessed moment with another.
- Designing to leverage the (friend-)client’s ecosystem :
This morning I was sitting with a friend, a potential client and after two previous conversations, I had gathered that he wanted to focus on 4 to 5 areas. As the clarity emerged, we saw how everything is interwoven. And its all about our relationship with oneself. There is the inner world and the outer. Though they are one, they appear different.
In as much as the shifts inside him can bring forth a shift in the outer, sometimes small shifts in the ecosystem of the client- his work colleagues, his family, the design of his life, time and physical space can bring forth a shift in him. So we spoke about one of his clients and how he could be more effective there by building a heart connection, having a difficult conversation gently, honestly, sensitively.
We have heard of triple loop learning. The first loop is the content/ problem-solving approach. The second loop looks at the values/ assumptions beneath. The third loop looks at and operates from Being/ Presence. I am seeing that perhaps there is a fourth loop which looks at the larger whole. There is Self-awareness and there is a Collaborative awareness in the relationship between a Coach and Client. I am speaking of Ecosystem Awareness. So we are also working with the ecology of vital relationships in a Coach’s life- his work, his family, friends. Sometimes a small shift in the outer enables a leap in the inner. That requires us to go beyond the inner and outer to the beyond.
I use my community & multiple resources to serve him and his ecosystem. As we see how intricately life is speaking and listening to itself, some powerful connections happen. We begin to also see how there are two aspects: Evolution (includes healing, learning, etc- all located in time and space- the manifest world) and then there is freedom, freedom from suffering and the patterns of our mind-body reality.