Monday, 27 February 2012

Your challenge is beautifully simple

We live in a complex world. Most of our efforts to make things simple just create further levels of complexity. Take a moment to think about what it’s taken to relate this blog post to you now…

The working environment around us. The electricity we are consuming. The devices we are using to read this blog. We all have a sense of how these things are provided to us but I’d bet not one of us could create this complex system ourselves from scratch…

You might think you have no choice. Perhaps it’s very hard to see any other way.

Beauty in simplicity
Do you like this photo? I do - I feel it has a certain beauty to it.

It was taken in a restaurant built by the owners themselves. All the cooking was done in a wood oven. Rustic, simple & gorgeous. The seating was informal and it created a simple environment where the focus was us and our conversation over good food. 

The photo is nothing more than a paper bag and a tea-light. Simple. Beautiful. It worked wonderfully.  It’s an example of  simplicity that has stayed with me.  Surely simplicity endures just as well as complexity if not better?

I don't believe our purpose in life is to make things more complex & ugly. I believe our challenge in life is to make things beautifully simple.  Don't you think?

Friday, 24 February 2012

Friday Wondering - Where is the Reciprocal Learning?

Each Friday I'm posting a "Friday Wondering". These posts are meant to explore & discuss observations or issues which I think would benefit from discussion. Participation is open to absolutely anyone regardless of their expertise or knowledge. Just bring your curiosity!

If you'd like to discuss on Twitter rather than here then why not. It would help though if you could use the #FridayWondering hashtag. Thanks!

Where is the Reciprocal Learning?
For all the greatness of social media, I'm struggling to find the place where the debate and learning can happen in a meaningful way...

Twitter is great for short exchanges but tends to be fleeting and short! LinkedIn, when you can avoid the spam, is troubled by "know it alls" - it's hard to find real learning exchanges. Blogs & their comments tend to add something but also tend to stop with the comment made.

So here's today's #FridayWondering...

Where is the reciprocal learning on Social Media happening?
Why don't blog comments turn into discussions & debates?
How do you create the space for meaningful questioning, challenge, contribution, sharing and reciprocal learning?

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Commit! I dare you…

Do you know what drives change?  Commitment.  Nothing else. 

It’s the basis for our relationships.  It’s how we hold ourselves accountable.  It’s how change comes about.  Commitments that are explicit, visible and enduring drive the greatest sustainable change. 

Commitment is also how change fails... When your commitments are hollow, unrealistic or absent. When your commitment is not apparent. When you are committed to not creating the change. 

Without meaningful, explicit & shared commitments how can you hope to bring about change? 

OK, you might think I’m talking about someone else. Wrong - we all fail to at this some of the time. Maybe we think we are strong enough to do it ourselves, privately & without help. Maybe we don’t want to change. Maybe we just don’t care enough, yet... 

That’s fine. Change isn’t always easy. You need to be ready to change. You need to be ready to commit. 

You’re ready? Go on then. Commit! I dare you... it's much more exciting when you do!

Friday, 17 February 2012

Friday Wondering - Your Real Avatar

Each Friday I'm posting a "Friday Wondering". These posts are meant to explore & discuss observations or issues which I think would benefit from discussion. Participation is open to absolutely anyone regardless of their expertise or knowledge. Just bring your curiosity!

If you'd like to discuss on Twitter rather than here then why not. It would help though if you could use the #FridayWondering hashtag. Thanks!

Your Real Avatar
An exchange with @StirTheSource and @MJCarty the other week explored in a few brief exchanges the meaning behind the image we use on Twitter, or for that matter elsewhere.

If you think about corporate profiles, photos generally represent the "pretty veneer" of ourselves.  They make some statement about our perceived style e.g. smart suit = professional.  Even our corporate logos have a narrative attached to them...  But it is a veneer that is represented.

What about the real you?  What image would convey more of the person behind the veneer?  I think Twitter provides an environment where people can do this through their avatars.  It provides another way of conveying aspects of their life, beliefs or values that they want to share.

What does your avatar say about you?

Friday, 10 February 2012

How Coaching Has Helped Me: A Coach’s Perspective

To celebrate International Coaching Week (ICW) I'm running a series of daily blogs on both coaching & mentoring.

Today I am delighted to host a guest post from Vera Woodhead (@verawoodhead).  Vera is a professional coach, facilitator, trainer and lecturer in business, leadership and personal development. If you haven't already, I'd recommend checking out her blog here.

Vera's post gives a great perspective on the learning & development that coaches themselves take from the coaching process. It's a great story to end this weeks series of guest posts. I hope you enjoy it!

How Coaching Has Helped Me: A Coach's Perspective 
Having spent over 15 years in people development, the route to coaching seemed a natural progression.  Of those the majority was spent in large organisational environments where performance, effectiveness, goals, strategic direction… were part of the coaching repertoire.

This changed when I undertook my Masters in Coaching and Mentoring some years ago where we engaged with ‘coachees’ to practice new skills, techniques... etc on. I used my contacts to find 5 professional women who wanted to take up the offer of 6 free coaching sessions. They included a head teacher, lawyer, judge, HR director and a business owner. They were all local and came to my house (where I have a private ‘coaching room’) for their sessions. I was surprised about the type of issues that were being raised.  They were intertwined with aspects that were personal, professional, family and much more emotions were coming through than I was used to.

Many of our conversations resulted in shifts in paradigm and beliefs and in most instances were cathartic.  I was struck by how much they seem to get out of the sessions, the transformational changes and how liberated they felt. My approach since been one that is holistic, developmental and works with core values and beliefs.

However, the most transformational change was in myself. I arrived in England as a young teen and have been financially, emotionally, psychologically independent since the age of 17 years old. I was tough, hard, aloof, didn’t show any emotions as this would be a sign of weakness. I had to be strong, to cope with whatever challenges came my way - on my own. This continued throughout my married life and even when I had my children. 

It wasn’t until I worked with this group of women, that I became aware that showing signs of vulnerability does not make you a ‘less strong’ person. I was also moved that they felt safe and trusted me enough to share some of those inner feelings. This was a huge turning point for me and the start of my journey in getting in touch with my emotions, being aware of them and sharing them. I became better at asking for help and in talking about how I was feeling. I find it much easier to be empathetic and to share my own feelings.

My thoughts, feelings and actions are much more aligned and the perspectives and learning that I get from coaching clients continues to help me grow and develop.

Friday Wondering - What is Coaching & Mentoring?

Each Friday I'm posting a "Friday Wondering". These posts are meant to explore & discuss observations or issues which I think would benefit from discussion. Participation is open to absolutely anyone regardless of their expertise or knowledge. Just bring your curiosity!

If you'd like to discuss on Twitter rather than here then why not. It would help though if you could use the #FridayWondering hashtag. Thanks!

What is Coaching & Mentoring?

As part of International Coaching Week, I’ve accepted a challenge from @StirTheSource to deal with the question of “what is or isn’t coaching & mentoring?”. Sounds simple doesn’t it? Textbook stuff... 

Actually, that’s the challenge. Hundreds of books have been written about coaching & mentoring by academics, trainers, practitioners & consultants. For all that intellectual resource there is no apparent definitive answer, not even if you look to the professional bodies. 

The Definition Dilemma 
So why is there no definitive answer? Let’s start with the obvious. There is no overarching professional body for either coaching or mentoring as there is with say Accountancy. 

In the absence of an overarching professional body a variety of similar definitions can co-exist. 

For all the historical references to Coaching (Pendennis) & Mentoring (Homer - not the Simpsons!), the question of definition seems only to have become important in recent years with the advent of coaching & mentoring in organisations or as a service. Clients want providers to explain their solutions. Authors want to assert their views. Professional bodies want to set standards and expectations. 

The commercial market demands explanation but not a single definition. 

I think there is also another commercial (or perhaps human) interest at play here which is the need to differentiate from other practices. Coaches, as an example, are generally quick to point out that coaching is most definitely not consulting, mediation, training, therapy, counselling or even mentoring! 

There is perceived advantage to describing coaching & mentoring in a way that differentiates. 

I believe that the above dynamics have contributed to a crowded and extremely varied UK market to the extent that coaching as an example has a bad reputation for some. 

So with the above in mind there I have a dilemma about how do I answer the question of “what is or isn’t coaching & mentoring”? To answer provides another perspective and reinforces the above status quo which may not be seen as helpful. To not answer would seem to say that I don’t know how I practice coaching & mentoring! 

What coaching & mentoring is & is not 
As I’ve already mentioned, coaching is not consulting, mediation, therapy, counselling or even mentoring. The most effective way I’ve ever seen anyone describe this comes from @SandroDaSilva who wrote “A butterfly goes to a coach”. Do take a look over on his blog if you’ve not read it already. 

To add to this, I do not believe coaching is just about asking questions. Some people do. For me a human interaction that connects with you requires more than just asking questions. Feedback, observation, reflection are all valuable tools that we can share with our clients to support them. It’s worth also referring to my recent post on “Advice in Coaching”. 

The Confessional 

Personally, I don’t believe that there needs to be a single definition of either coaching or mentoring. 

I believe that coaching & mentoring have a variety of similar but differing definitions because they describe relationships based on deep levels of trust. Without such levels of trust I don’t believe coaching & mentoring can be successful. We all see such relationships through our own eyes, experiences & emotions hence the diversity of similar definitions. 

I value the diversity that exists and I think clients do also - they want a variety of solutions that create long lasting sustainable change. However, we should be more definitive regarding poor practice - I think that’s a whole different blog! 

I've said plenty!  What are your thoughts on coaching & mentoring?

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Advice in coaching

Traditional wisdom in coaching suggests that advice giving is poor practice. The rationale is that by giving advice to a client you are leading or telling the client what to do. 

This directive action introduces a form of judgement and potentially takes away the clients’ ability to create their own solutions. In its purest sense this can have a consequence in terms of the coaching relationship and even limit the impact of the coaching. 

However, it’s often raised as a debating point in coaching circles, even by experienced practitioners. Is advice giving really poor practice? 

My view 
I believe that no matter how you practice as a coach, it is always to serve the interests of the client not yourself. If this care is absent then you are not coaching. 

There are a broad range of coaches, coaching practices & client needs out there. I think the question of advice in coaching is more an issue of how can advice help or hinder a client during a coaching session. 

From this perspective, in terms of advice giving, I think it’s helpful as a coach to be conscious of  two simple calibrating questions first: 

What form could the “advice” take? 

Be clear about what form the “advice” could take and how it might be received - feedback, observation, information, recommendation, obligation, expectation, judgement, critique, criticism. 

Who would giving advice truly serve? 

Connected to how it might be received, assess who does this input really serve? What are your motivations? What could the consequences be? Will it help shift thinking or action? Do you have an obligation to provide this input? Do you need to do it now? Are you the best person to provide this input? What will happen if you don't do it now? 

Using these two calibrating questions I find that I don't have to worry about the word "advice". I can focus my attention on how can I best care for the client at that moment in time. 

As it happens I almost never find myself feeling the need to give advice whilst coaching. When it does happen, I’m able to recognise it and if appropriate, offer it the client as it is meant, even “pausing” the coaching session if necessary.  Above all, this process ensures that the client can retain autonomy & self-determination in the coaching process.

What do you think about advice in coaching?  How do you deal with it in your practice?

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

The Coaching Journey

To celebrate International Coaching Week (ICW) I'm running a series of daily blogs on both coaching & mentoring.

Today I am delighted to host a guest post from Karen Locking (@karenlocking) who is a Workforce Development Resource Officer. Her post gives a wonderful sense of the coaching journey of an L&D professional. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

I’ve been training and practicing as a Performance Development coach for ten months and I cannot believe the impact the programme is having on me as an individual.

I signed up go on a coach programme to become a coach seeing it as a way of providing a service our workforce needed, we were offering performance development coaching and they needed people to train as coaches, I love learning and thought “I’m in, I’ll give it a go!”. I didn’t expect the transition to be personal and have such a huge impact.

I believed I had a reasonable level of self awareness, I thought I knew what made me tick and I knew how I learnt and how I worked. I have had counselling before and am a self confessed “overthinker” so I truly believed I had learnt a lot about myself. However, the world of coaching has opened newer areas of thought and continuously challenged what I thought I knew about myself. It has changed how I interact and my thought processes and patterns in ways I didn’t ever think it would.

For example - I find myself asking my husband questions when he’s stuck with a problem instead of giving him answers for ease and quickness (much to his annoyance some days! – “Don’t coach me” he replies!), I listen more attentively and find myself asking people questions about why they used specific words and where assumptions have come from.

And this isn’t even in my formal coaching sessions! The formal sessions have been so very eye opening, my self reflection afterwards about whether I ask questions linked to my comfort zone and way of thinking and then trying to ask questions around their way of thinking to build rapport and open doors for them has been unbelievably useful. The feeling of “wow the coachee has shifted mindsets” is so fabulous and to know all I did was continue being inquisitive through questions.

I have had the new coach internal panic and I don’t think I’ll have buried it forever. The “overthinker” inner critic in me has had a feeling of worry as well as excitement before a coaching session and I realised mid way through my training I was procrastinating with the finest level of skill before setting up my first session with a coachee however, overall my experiences have been one of unbelievable personal accomplishment and satisfaction.

I would invite any individual interested in coaching to speak to a coach, have some sessions perhaps and explore this way of learning. Not just as a way of learning about yourself but learning about others as well. I began my training seeing my coaching experience and training as a journey with a final destination, however the more I explore and the deeper I dive into the world of coaching

I’m realising there will be no final destination no final finish line, the journey will be the reward if I continue to learn about myself, and through the people and sights along the way.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Ironic or is it?

To celebrate International Coaching Week (ICW) I'm running a series of daily blogs on both coaching & mentoring.

Today I am delighted to host a guest post from Jon Bartlett (@ProjectLibero) a professional coach, mentor and health worker. If you haven't already, you can read more of his excellent blogging here. Here, Jon gives us a perspective on coaching in the workplace which I hope will resonate with you.

When David first asked me if I wanted to do a blog for International Coaching Week I had just agreed to carry out some mediation training. It seemed slightly ironic that during the one week that is dedicated to coaching I would be doing mediation. However, as I thought about it made a lot of sense, let me explain.

For those of you who are unaware how a basic mediation works, let me do a (reasonably) quick explanation – basically you get the two protagonists in a room without all the attendant hangers on, be it HR staff, union reps or their best pal. You sit down individually with each of them, work out what is important and send them away to have a think about what they want to say to the other person. Then when they’ve decided you work with them to craft a form of words which honour their intent whilst also not starting a small office war. That takes up the morning, then after lunch you bring the two parties together. They both get an uninterrupted speaking time and it goes from there with the mediator(s) helping the flow of discussion, reframing some of the content, enabling them to see the others position. With any luck an agreement can be reached which enables them to continue to work together and saves on tribunals, oceans of paperwork and their pent up emotions ruining work for everyone else.

Now as a coach I often work with clients who are in conflict with someone else, and they want to examine how they perceive this person and how in turn they are viewed. So, transferable skill to mediation right there. I also work with clients who can only see one way forward in a situation and need to reframe their position, another transferable skill. I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this but lets add another, deeper layer.

What about the clients who are in conflict with themselves, the ones who sabotage their own best efforts, or think the world is against them and that they have no control over anything? Well a surprising amount of people who are hugely aggressive during a mediation are in fact acting out of very positive intentions. They may have become the office “problem” because it was the only way they knew how to express themselves and they often feel powerless against the system / their manager / their team. Given a voice and the chance to build a rapport with the other person they become like pussycats. Well it’s the same with coaching clients. They don’t know how to talk to themselves, how to break free of years of poor programming, how to take charge of their own lives. They have basically fallen out of rapport with themselves and the skill of the coach is sometimes in highlighting that fact and starting the conversation anew.

So it’s appropriate that I’m mediating this week because actually, I’m just coaching in a different way. One of the many methods available to a coach and I’m sure you will hear more about other coaching perspectives during David’s great series.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Working With People

To celebrate International Coaching Week (ICW) I'm running a series of daily blogs on both coaching & mentoring.

Today I am delighted to host a guest post from an experienced HR professional. Given the personal nature of the post they have asked to remain anonymous but I think you'll agree it's a tremendous story about the impact of a mentoring relationship.

I was fortunate enough during last year to be put in touch with a senior HR person who agreed to mentor me. At that point in my career I had felt lost and deeply unhappy. There were days when I wondered how I would escape the feelings of isolation and desperation and when I would have given anything not to work in HR anymore. I couldn’t see a way out but I couldn’t see a way forward either. Unusually for me, I started to feel stagnant and trapped. It had a very negative impact on my mental health and started to chip away at my confidence. Because of the impact it was having on me, I started to doubt my own abilities and all I wanted to do was run away from the problem because I couldn’t see how to fix it. I would like to add here that I’m typically a glass half full person and so once faced with this trap, my optimism and upbeat self slowly disappeared.

Then along came Harry* (*not his real name), someone who very quickly built up rapport with me and who earned my respect just for being himself. I remember that for the first couple of conversations that we had, I went around in circles, not really knowing what the problem was. Harry was one of the most patient people that I’ve ever come across and looking back now I realise he is someone who has a real gift for working with people.

After some time, Harry helped me to identify that my deepest trigger for being unhappy at work was not the work itself but my personal perception of a particular relationship with a person at work. I felt we were too different and that they didn’t understand me. From time to time, I saw challenge as conflict and slowly over time, I had built a wall around myself in order to cope with what I saw as a relationship that was slipping away. I had also felt ignored and because I felt that praise didn’t come very often, I started to believe that everything I did was wrong. It was made worse by a performance review that didn’t quite go as I’d expected.

Harry asked me to consider my Myers-Briggs personality and also think about the person I was feeling unhappy about. He was quite simply, amazing. Just from a few conversations he had decided my profile in his mind but also that of the person I wasn’t getting along with. From there, he helped me to see that the other person saw the world very differently to myself and highlighted where there were real differences in our views. Harry encouraged me to speak to that person about how much the issues were bothering me and he assured me that by asking for praise once in a while was not an unreasonable request.

I had a meeting coming up and I wanted to address the problems head on. Harry helped me with setting my agenda, the use of language that I was going to use to address the problem and talked me through the different scenarios. When the meeting came and went without a hitch, I started to see the world from the other persons perspective and I realised that there wasn’t a personal issue at all, we were disjointed and I had taken something personally that was never intended that way.

A year later, I’m in the same job. I wouldn’t say it’s perfect but for the most part I enjoy what I do. I still work with the same person and our relationship is much improved. The other person hasn’t changed much at all but I have adapted my style when I’m with them and I’ve learnt not to take things personally. I don’t think that Harry will ever quite understand what a difference he made to me. I feel indebted to him for his kindness, patience and empathy.

Before this experience I had never been mentored before and I wasn’t sure how it would be able to improve things. Sadly Harry has moved onto other things and I’m on the lookout for a new mentor. I’m hoping too that at some point I’ll get the chance to give something back and that I’ll be able to make a difference in the way that Harry did for me.

Friday, 3 February 2012


This Sunday 5th February marks the start of International Coaching Week (ICW). A week long global celebration of the coaching profession held annually, during the first full week in February. You can find out more here EMCC and here ICF

There are loads of ways to celebrate and participate. Amongst other things, I’m providing pro-bono coaching and helping a fantastic group of EMCC volunteers to launch the EMCC UK Cambridge Network on Tuesday evening. 

I’m also going to run a series of blogs through the week on the theme of both coaching & mentoring. I have a few ideas but then thought why not ask you to join in the fun!  Here’s how you can participate: 

Challenge me!

So what are the questions you have about coaching & mentoring? Is there anything you’ve always wondered but have never asked about? Do you have questions or concerns about coaching or mentoring?

Just share what you'd like to be discussed and I'll try to blog about them.  I don't promise any answers but I will happily explore with you!

Collaborate with me!

Would you like to guest blog here on any coaching & mentoring related subject? You don’t have to be an expert. You don’t have to be a coach or mentor. If you have a perspective or experience related to coaching or mentoring that you’d like to share in detail here then I’d be delighted to help. 

Celebrate with me!

It would be great to celebrate your own activities and experiences of ICW.  If you are already participating in #ICW then let me know what you are up to - blog links also welcome.

Need Help?

If you want to celebrate but don’t know how, just give me a call. Myself and I’m sure other colleagues would be happy to either suggest ideas or even support you. 

What next? 

Well if the above has piqued your curiosity or just want to jump in with both feet then just let me know!  You can either use the comments form below, tweet me directly here or email me here

Look forward to hearing from you!

Friday Wondering - Our Social Contract

Each Friday I'm posting a "Friday Wondering". These posts are meant to explore & discuss observations or issues which I think would benefit from discussion. Participation is open to absolutely anyone regardless of their expertise or knowledge. Just bring your curiosity!

If you'd like to discuss on Twitter rather than here then why not. It would help though if you could use the #FridayWondering hashtag. Thanks!

Our Social Contract
At work we normally have a legal &/or psychological contract with those around us.  This may be imperfect or unbalanced but it's there in some form or another.

Outside of work, we have what might be called an emotional contract with our personal relationships such as family, partners, children, friends.

So on Social Media, where we've not established the above relationships, what exactly is the contract with those we engage with?