CoachingExcellence

January 1, 2017
Dear Coach,

Welcome to my Blog. Here you'll find essays I've written about coaching. Some of the questions I'm exploring are (1) What makes coaching work? (2) What helps coaches do their work well? (3) How do coaches continue to be masters of their profession? and (4) What the heck are those ICF coaching competencies, anyway?

My passion is helping coaches to be their best, so they can bring the best of coaching to their clients.

There's something here for all coaches, at all levels of experience. I’ll bet you'll learn something new, find a new perspective to consider, or just encounter a new way to say what you already know from experience. It’s all good, and (probably) good for you, too! .
You're welcome to browse - I'm sure you'll find something that resonates with your experience. You can also search on Categories and Tags for specific topics.

If you find something that you enjoy, please share with your colleagues and friends, and copy the link so you can find it again. Leave a comment if you’d like. You just might spur a new essay about something I’ve learned from you!

It's my privilege to offer my thoughts on coaching.. Enjoy your reading!

Sue McLeod, PCC

What I Did on Summer Sabbatical

Sabbatical means taking a break from my normal routines.  We ended our summer fun in Brooklin, Maine at the Marine Photography class offered by the Wooden Boat School.

My photography knowledge, skills, and eye have clearly improved after a week focused on f-stops, focal length, shutter speed, exposure, blurred backgrounds, and the rule of thirds.  What surprised me was my reaction to joining a small group experiential learning adventure. More on that in a later post. For now, just enjoy the the photos.

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Simple Ways to Improve Your Coaching

I’ve said that coaching is simple. All it takes at the most basic level is connecting with another person, being curious, asking questions, responding to what they say with more questions, and believing that they are creative and can find their own answers and path forward.

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So why do I continue to offer coach training for experienced coaches? After 100, 500 or more hours of coaching experience, shouldn’t we have mastered these simple things?

It turns out that these simple things aren’t always easy. Some of them are at odds with ideas, beliefs, and skills that have made us successful in other careers. For examples, consultants find that the impulse to identify and solve problems can get in the way of their curiosity and listening. Over time, they are pulled back to this old ways of serving clients. 

As I observe my own coaching, teach classes and work with coaches on their coaching I’m learning more about what makes coaching work and how coaches can increase their effectiveness.

From all of this learning, I’ve distilled a small number of SIMPLE WAYS you can improve your coaching - things that will help you get back to the core skills, beliefs and ways of being that make coaching powerful and effective.  You can find these in my new E-Book “Simple Ways to Improve Your Coaching” available free to download HERE.

But like any self-help book that provides thought-provoking ideas, my “Simple Ways” can’t tell you the best way to improve your coaching. It takes more than knowing to deepen your understanding, apply it to yourself, and follow your own path forward.

Students in my Coaching Master Class create a supportive community for discussing coaching challenges and finding new ways to improve their own coaching. Through sharing our experiences and questions about how we can be more effective, students create new insights into their own coaching. Then each student selects an assignment to further reflect, observe, and practice new coaching moves. I'm delighted by the insights and the commitment to improve that the students create during our time together.

The next class starts on October 1 and runs until March 11, 2019. Won’t you join me for this exploration of the coaching competencies and how to better use them in your coaching?

The Coaching Master Class engages a small group of coaches to focus on the core coaching competencies in a collaborative learning lab of 8 tele-classes. You’ll earn 18 Core Competency CEUs, including 3 hours of Ethics Training while gaining new insights into the coaching competencies and learning from wise and experienced peer coaches. 

Learn more about the Coaching Master Class HERE.

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What's in your Coaching Agreement?

When we talk about Ethics, we soon find that our Ethical Foundations live in the agreements we make with our clients. Like these steps in a hiking trail, our agreements provide a path over uneven terrain and can lead us from darkness into light.

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Do you like to talk about Ethics? Probably not. Not many people jump at the opportunity. It sounds stale, pedantic, authoritarian and downright dull.

Imagine my surprise when I noticed that students in the Ethics in Coaching and Coaching Master Classes were engaged, intrigued and surprised by what they learned. They were grateful for the opportunity to talk honestly and openly about this important topic.

(By the way, my classes meet the requirements for the 3 hours of Ethics training you’ll need for your ICF credential renewal and I promise it will be the most fun you’ll have talking about Ethics!)

In these conversations, we talk about the challenges we’re facing with keeping client information confidential, recognizing and avoiding conflicts of interest, knowing when (and how) to decline or terminate a coaching engagement, and what information we can keep and what we should delete.

It soon becomes clear that there is some guidance in the code on these topics but the real guidance comes from the agreements we make with our clients. Agreements set the foundation for a strong coaching engagement. They support our ability to act ethically when challenges come up. But taken to extremes, they can feel out of sync with the coaching relationship we want to create.

These class conversations prompted me to think more deeply about the role our agreements play in the coaching relationship.

I’ve seen (and used) agreements that are on two ends of a spectrum. On one end is the “not-in-writing” agreement. This could be a verbal agreement that isn’t written down. It also happens when coach and client don’t think they need an agreement (perhaps they’ve worked together before or know each other well) and don’t even discuss an agreement before starting the coaching.

On the other end of the spectrum is the multi-page, many-clauses-to-cover-all-possible-contingencies, carefully crafted in legal language to cover the coach’s tokus. It feels like bringing a prenup on a first date!

Neither seems right to me.

Coaching is a business relationship and warrants explicit agreements about boundaries, expectations, and the rights and responsibilities on both sides. The “no agreement” option doesn’t honor the professional nature of coaching. 

The coaching relationship also requires trust, mutuality, co-creation and holding the client’s interests at heart. It often involves more people and stakeholders beyond the coach and client, who also need be a part of that trusting relationship. The long, legal agreement doesn’t feel aligned with these qualities of the relationship.

Given that, my next question was “What is the ‘just right’ agreement?” Of course, the answer is – it depends! It depends on the existing relationship, the context for the coaching engagement (for example, is this coaching as part of a training program, or individual coaching towards specific development goals), and other factors (such as who else is a stakeholder in the engagement) that might impact what you include or what you exclude from your agreement.

The better questions are “what is the purpose of the agreement” and “how can you best serve that purpose with a specific client?”

Consider this. The coaching agreement serves two primary purposes:

First, it documents the business relationship including the services the coach provides and the container in which those services will be provided, such as time frame, payments, meeting logistics, client goals, coach’s methods, etc.

Second, it sets a foundation for a trusting relationship, including clarifying what the coach and client expect of each other, what will happen if something goes awry, and how the coach will keep the client’s interests at the heart of the coaching. 

The second seems to require more thought than the first. In thinking about some recent coaching engagements I realized that I had to include some unique items in my agreements. Here are some things that I felt needed to be addressed to build that trust:

  • The coaching sponsor is a friend and colleague of mine, so I was careful to cover with client and sponsor how I would interact with the sponsor during and after the coaching engagement.
  • The client and I were planning to meet in a public place, so I added language that said I wouldn’t share information about the client, but I could not promise confidentiality and privacy because others could see us together and overhear our conversations.
  • I was coaching someone who was looking for a job in one of my professional communities. We had a very specific conversation to assure the client that no one in that community would hear anything about our coaching.
  • Because I teach and write about coaching, my agreement covers how and when I share stories based on our coaching conversations.
  • My agreement with students in my classes clarifies what information I keep and what information I destroy once the class is over.

I’m curious. Does this “framework” for coaching agreements resonate with you? Are there other things that you consider when you’re crafting and customizing agreements for your coaching engagements? 

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What to do with those chatty clients

Most coaches I talk with are stymied by what I’ll call “chatty clients”. These are the clients who give long answers with lots of detail, dominate the conversation, don’t breath between sentences, ramble all over the place, and don’t stay focused on the topic at hand. If you let them, they will talk for the whole coaching session.

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Be provocative. Break the pattern. 

 

I first ran into this type of client when I was still in my coach training.

Like many of you, I had to submit recordings for evaluation and feedback. We were graded on a scale of 1 to 10 (low to high) based on our demonstration of coaching skills and use of the tools we were taught.

I was mortified to receive a score of “1” on my first recording! And, to be fair, my evaluator was being generous. You see, I had submitted a 30-minute recording in which the client did all of the talking. Yes, really!  OK, maybe I said “Hello” and “Same time next week?” but other than that the client talked, non-stop, for the whole session.

I knew I was struggling with this client. I couldn’t t get a word in edge-wise, wasn’t sure how to interrupt, when to interrupt, or what to do if I did interrupt. I felt completely helpless and didn’t know how to change this dynamic. 

Is that how it is for you?

To capture that helpless feeling, I’ve created a variant on my favorite coaching acronym (WAIT - Why Am I Talking) for coaches who listen too much - WAIL (Why Am I Listening)

With more experience and the gift of listening to other coaches doing their work, I’ve noticed some patterns. While it would be fun to consider how we can change the client to be less verbose, I’m more interested in the coach. What is the coach doing that allows or encourages the client to speak in excess? What could the coach do differently to create balance in the conversation between coach and client?

If you have a chatty client, record a coaching session and listen. Listen carefully to what you say.  Here are a few things I hear that encourage chatty clients to chat even more:

1. Ambiguous questions: While I love a question that is not only open but wide open (like What are you noticing? or What’s important to you today?), these types of questions are also ambiguous.  If you ask me what I’m noticing, I can share all kinds of things that I’m noticing - my thoughts about… well, just about anything, my emotions, my physical body, what I see you doing, the temperature of the room, the fact that the story I just told reminded me of another thing that is frustrating, etc. If I’m a chatty client, I could start down one of these paths and it could be awhile before you can get me to focus again.  

Try this instead: Ask more pointed and specific questions that create boundaries around what you are asking the client to talk about. For example “What are you noticing about the emotions you feel right now?” or  “Given the goals you have for the coaching, what challenge are you facing this week that you’d like to focus on?” or  “Would you like to start the session by sharing your successes for 5 minutes before we start coaching?”  Yes, these are more directive than the wide open questions. But, my guess is, the chatty client could use a little direction!

2. Restating what you hear the client say: Restating and reframing are great coaching tools. The client hears themselves in a new way when their coach repeats their words. However, I’ve noticed that chatty clients use these as a jumping off point to continue talking. After the coach interrupts and say “What I heard you say is….” the client immediately responds with “That’s right and…” continues the story.

Try this instead: Resist the urge to repeat what the client just said. I know, I know… it’s the easiest and safest way to interrupt a client who is talking a lot. I get that. But if it’s just encouraging them to talk more, why continue using that coaching move?  Ask a question or make an observation instead. Here’s the challenge though. Your question or observation has to take them out of the story. An information gathering question won’t do it. An observation about the story won’t do it. You have to shift their thinking to something else, and that might require you to be a little provocative.  “I hear you’re frustrated with your coworker and that’s causing you to act like a jerk. How does is it for you to be that frustrated?” or “I’ve been listening for a few minutes now and I’m completely lost in your story. What is it you really want me to know about this?”

I know these types of moves are hard to make, especially if you and your client have an established pattern of 'client gets to talk while coach gets to listen'. So first, listen to your coaching to see what is happening. If your hear ambiguous questions or restating that invites the client to talk more, take a risk and try something new.

Be provocative. Break the pattern. I have confidence that you’ll know what to do; I’ll be curious to hear how your client reacts.

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Creating Silence

 

What stops you in your tracks?

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The scene in the photo above literally stopped my in my tracks. I was hustling from Georgetown's building on Mass Ave. to meet a friend for dinner and passed this opening between the buildings. Stunned by the glowing purple sunset, I stopped and (of course!) had to capture it with my camera. There's nothing like a gorgeous sunset to take my breath away and create a pause in my thinking and my purpose.

Powerful questioning in a coaching conversation can do the same. They can be magical. When your questions are working, they seem simple and effortless. It's not just the words we use. It's the pace and timing, and the intention behind the words. It's not just one question, either. It's a group of questions that respond to the client, build on a theme, or shift their perspective in a new direction.

And, sometimes, it's what we don't say or don't do that creates what our client needs - silence.

I was reminded of this the last time I was in DC, staying with friends and teaching coaching.

I was playing “What’s That?” with the precious two-year old son of my friends. I had turned the tables on him. Instead of being on the receiving end of his incessant questions, I was questioning him. He quickly answered when I pointed to his socks, pants, shirt, hair, and nose, but was stumped when I touched his forehead. He paused, looked around, and there was an unusual silence. I resisted the temptation to tell him the answer or move on to his arms and fingers.

After a what seemed like an endless pause, he started to speak… “ffff…”. Another pause, then “fffooorrr…”.

More quiet and glances around the room. Suddenly he looked back at me and said “fore….head!” with a big smile.  I was delighted! And grateful I had allowed the silence for him to think and create a new connection between his forehead and its name.

The next day I was with a group of students, observing their coaching. One coach had the good fortune to ask a question that the client didn’t answer right away. To her credit, the coach endured the silence and waited. In our debrief discussion, the coach admitted that she was mortified, thinking that the client didn’t understand the question. The client countered that the question was a tough one. She needed the time to think.  It was the perfect opportunity to remind the students that clients will tell you, pretty quickly, if they don’t understand your question.

The questions that invoke silence have taken them to a place where there isn’t an easy answer.

When you have the good fortune to create that silence, take a deep breath, stay connected to your client, and wait. What’s happening in the silence is more valuable than anything you can say

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