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
Other thoughts, ideas and musings on coaching, learning, business and life

Creating Silence


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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Swimming Upstream - From Giving Advice To Asking Powerful Questions

 

Swimming Upstream -From Giving Advice to Asking Powerful Questions

Alewives are fish who spawn in fresh water and live their lives in the ocean (like salmon and other anadromous fish).  Each year they make the journey from the ocean, up rivers and streams to their spawning grounds. Fish ladders, like the one in the photo, provide a pathway around man-made obstacles like dams and roads. It is amazing to watch these small fish swim up this ladder and fight against the strong current of the rushing water.

I sometimes feel that learning to be a coach is a similar journey going against much that has made us successful in other work that we do.

I was reminded of one of the struggles in my journey to become a coach, just last week.

I’m on the phone with a client, listening to her and doing my coaching thing. At the same time, I’m aware of what’s going on in my head. You would think that after 15 years of coaching my problem-solving brain would know when to take a break! But no, it’s chattering away today with brilliant solutions and insisting that I share these with my client. It’s confident that one of these will be the magic key to unlock what’s holding her back.

It’s hard some days to suppress my years of math, computer programming and consulting when finding THE answer was the objective. Hmmm… Could the Sudoku puzzles I work on everyday also be reinforcing this preference?

I’m also aware that I’ve defined my value in relationships by what information, ideas or solutions I can offer to others.  Even the cards and gifts I give have to be “just the right thing”. Moving away from problem-solving was the biggest transformation for me when I became a coach. And the chatter in my head tells me it hasn’t disappeared. It is just held at bay when I’m intentional about my role in the conversation.

I’m not alone in this. Many of my students come from problem-solving professions and struggle to understand the coach’s role. I’ve come to believe that learning to coach requires un-learning how we relate to others and redefining the value we bring to the relationship.  In order to truly step into a coaching mindset, we must shift from being the one to find that magic key and become the one creating the opportunity for the client to find that key for themselves.

I’m noticing that just writing this is bringing up some anxious thoughts: “But that’s no fun! It’s too passive, too much in the background!”; “What about all the stuff I know that would be so helpful for my client to know, too?”; “Who am I if I don’t share a few brilliant solutions for my client?” It’s interesting to listen to these thoughts and notice what’s important to my ego!

I’m curious about what you learn about yourself when you listen to your anxiety about giving advice.

I like to think that I’m good at managing my inner problem-solver while coaching. I’ve learned to hear the chatter as input to my coaching, rather than as something to say out loud. To do that I need to stay centered and connected to my client. I need to tap into my curiosity. I need to shift my listening.

It might go something like this.

My client is taking about how she’s not being consistent in the pause practice she agreed to last time.  My problem-solving brain has ideas about how she could set an alarm, pair it with an existing habit, and a few other brilliant ideas for helping her to do this.

I take a deep breath and ask “What have you been noticing?”. I use this curious, open question to buy a little time and space for me to shift my listening.

Breath again. Shift my body to an open and curious stance.

“Maybe some structure would be helpful to her”, I think, as she continues describing her struggles. I’m pulling away from my specific solutions to consider the theme of what my problem-solving brain is saying.

Breath… listen…be curious.

Now I notice something new emerging in what my client is saying.

I tune in even more and stay curious. I keep breathing and wonder what does the client know already? Where is she now in her journey?

I hear judgment about how pausing is a waste of time, it’s a good idea but it feels weird to do. She’s doing it sometimes, but not sure she can do it when it matters. Hmmm, this isn’t about alarms to remind her, it’s about something deeper.

Here’s the place to put aside my brilliant ideas, and start asking questions.

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Are You Asking Enough Questions In Your Coaching?

Coach, Are you asking enough questions?

Not that there’s a quota or anything, but I’m curious about how many questions you’re asking in your coaching. I ask, you see, because I’ve recently listened to some coaching and noticed that there were lots of statements and just a few questions.  If coaching is an inquiry approach, what’s happened to all of your questions?

What am I hearing in place of questions?  

One thing that I hear is restating what the client said, without adding much to it.  This is often introduced with “Client, what I heard you say is …” followed by the same words that the client used. Often, the client responds with “Yes, that’s right.” and then continues their story.

You might think that this is a demonstration of “active listening”, and it’s true that the definition of the ICF Active Listening competency includes restating. But this competency asks you to do more than just restate what you hear, including

  • Sharing what you hear about the client’s goals, concerns, values and beliefs, which are often not expressed directly in their word
  • Sharing the essence or “bottom lining” the client’s communication that breaks them out of their long, descriptive story

The PCC Markers go a step further and ask you to “notice and inquire about” the client’s language, emotions, behaviors, and the clues that hide in their voice such as changes in tone, inflection or pace. 

This might sound like “Client, I heard you start talking more passionately and stridently as you described that situation. What emotion are you noticing are you tell that story?” or “Client, I heard you use the words “she’s driving me crazy”. What does that that mean for you in this situation?”

If restating, word for word, what you hear the client say is taking up time and space that could be used for questioning, you might be missing out on opportunities to create new awareness that comes from inquiring about and exploring what your client is saying, not just listening to them speak.

I invite you to notice how many questions you’re asking, and challenge you to shift the balance to more questions and fewer declarative statements.

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Taking out the Trash (or How I Manage Client Information)

What do you do with your coaching client files and records?

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The trash can is overflowing as I throw away files and papers related to my coaching clients and students. There’s a pang of regret and fear that goes along with this exercise. “What if I need these again and can’t put my hands on them?”  Then a competing voice asks “But you promised your clients confidentiality and privacy and why do you need to keep all of this information anyway?”

In my Ethics in Coaching Class we carefully read the ICF Code of Ethics and ask ourselves if our current practices are aligned with the provisions of the Code. Each of us finds some way we can do better and we commit to learn more and make specific changes.

My assignment was to get serious about managing client information and deleting files when appropriate.

Here’s the paragraph in the ICF Code of Ethics I was using as my guide:

11. Maintain, store and dispose of any records, including electronic files and communications, created during my coaching engagements in a manner that promotes confidentiality, security and privacy and complies with any applicable laws and agreements. (ICF Code of Ethics, July 2015)

On first reading it seems simple and clear, but when you start asking “How would I implement this?”, the ambiguities appear.  What do I really need to do to “promote confidentiality, security, and privacy?” and which “laws and agreements apply?” are just the first two questions I asked. 

My goal was to create routines that addressed client and student records within a reasonable time after coaching engagement or class is done.  This seemed like an easy assignment, but I ran into the some challenges - I found it was a little more complex that I thought and I stumbled into more than one a“rabbit hole”.

Here’s my homework report that I shared with the other students in the class:

First things first - Where are my client documents?

  • Client documents and information are stored in many more places than I anticipated!. It’s in tax returns; my bookkeeping software; and my PayPal account. It’s in calendar entries; contact lists; and emails with their attachments.  It’s in electronic files and folders, and on paper. Client data is stored on my hard drive, on my mobile devices, in the “cloud”, on my desk and in notebooks.
  • With laptop, iPad, IPhone, and cloud apps that sync with each other, data start in one place, then get copied in two, three or more additional places.

I was overwhelmed by the idea that I needed to protect and keep “confidential and private” all of this data that is stored in so many places!

With all of that data floating around, what (really) needs to be protected?

I decided that the IRS and Maine Department of Revenue are the only entities really interested in who I do business with, how much I’m paid, when and for how long I talk with clients, or what their phone numbers/email addresses/Skype addresses are. I just don’t think there’s any danger in this information becoming public for the people I work with. Password protection should be enough.

It is important to protect and dispose of information about the content of my work with clients and students. This includes client coaching goals; interviews and notes from bosses, peers and direct reports; coaching session prep sheets;  homework assignment reports; coaching recordings, transcripts and assessment reports; and my notes about any of this content.

Now that I know what to delete, I need to know how!

This turned out to be the hardest part of this assignment. Deleting electronic files isn’t simple (or easy) because of multiple syncing devises, cloud-based applications, and disorganized filing systems. 

It took me a week of exploring to feel like I fully understood where files are stored and how they can be deleted in the systems I use. For example a file that I receive as an email attachment is stored on the mail server, in the mail folder on my computer, phone and tablet, and in system files that are hidden from my view, and then I copy it to a client folder. Tracking down all of these copies and learning the steps needed to really delete was, to say the least, a chore. 

After a couple of weeks of exploring and learning and thinking, here’s what I plan to do.

#1: I will be rigorous about deleting client, student and assessment files related to the content of our work within 30 days of the work being completed. I have an item on my ToDo list every 2 weeks to handle this task. I will delete files from ALL places that I know they can be hiding out on ALL devices and sites.

#2: I will revise my agreements to Include language that says I will hold our work in confidence but “doing business with” information will not be protected beyond passwords on devices and websites.

Sounds simple, but it won’t always be easy! 

With the technical details figured out, I started deleting - and ran into another obstacle.

My aversion to throwing things away reared it’s ugly head as soon as I started moving files into the Trash. Luckily, I quickly noticed that this response was the same as my response to getting rid of a pair of shoes that no longer fit. While my fear says these things are irreplaceable and I will suffer harm without them, my logical brain knows that they can be replaced, that most of the time they don’t need to be replaced, and that no deaths or injuries will occur if I no longer have them. 

I can just let them go.

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Smooth the Rocky Edges of Your Coaching

Join the Coaching Master Class in September. 

It’s Summer!

Boots and Coreopsis

I’m sitting on my deck enjoying the flowers (ignoring the weeds), listening to the ocean waves crash against the rocky shore (no sandy beaches here), and hoping that the wind doesn’t change direction and bring the odor of the decomposing whale that washed up on a nearby island into my idyllic morning.  Summer in Maine is lovely, but far from perfect.

And neither is our coaching. We all have some rocky areas, weeds among the masterful coaching moves, and a few bad habits lurking close by that could stink things up a little.

Is that enough of the rotting whale story? (It’s true, by the way…)

If you have questions about where your coaching might be less than ideal, or want to talk about those bad habits that you're no longer willing to ignore, I invite you to join the Coaching Master Class.

I’ve been so pleased at how experienced coaches who join the Master Class love returning to a safe learning community. We share rich conversations about our coaching, and learn from our collective experiences. Within the framework of coaching competencies, even experienced coaches have new insights into how they can serve their clients better.

Here’s what one Master Class Alumna shared with me recently about how this course impacted her:

There’s something magical that happens when people get together in the learning environment you create. So, on one level, there is this ethereal feeling of camaraderie. But then there's another level where I'm getting real, practical information and help on what to do to be a better coach. My notebook is full of new questions to ask my clients. Kelly Kienzle, PCC

I have a deep belief in both the power of sticking to and reinforcing the basic moves of coaching and being in community with fellow coaches. If this appeals to you, I hope you will consider signing up. 

You can REGISTER HERE.

In Gratitude,

Sue

P.S. Students who register by August 22 will save $150 on their Master Class investment. (Sweet, right?!) Since I save time in planning the sooner I have my class roster set, I like to pass those savings along to my students.

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