What I have learned as a coach

Coaching is a journey and not a destination. If I am a traveler in the coaching journey, writing this post, feels like contemplating a beautiful view at a train station. While contemplating this beautiful view I reflect on the things I have seen so far in my journey and I am curious about what is coming next.

Centering yourself and the client

I like starting my coaching sessions with a relaxation exercise. I have found it a very useful way to create a mindfulness space that facilitates the client’s sharing and takes both the coach and the client more into NOW. Even though I know that the relaxation exercise adds value to the session I do not take for granted that the client wants to do it.  So, I always ask for permission first before proceeding with the exercise.

In my coaching journey I have realized that counting on the relaxation exercise for centering myself as a coach before a session is not sufficient. Firstly, because there is always the possibility that the client refuses to do the relaxation exercise. Secondly, because wearing the coaching hat requires more preparation. In a couple of cases I did the mistake of starting a coaching session the minute I stopped doing something else. It just didn’t work. Perhaps, the client did not notice any difference. But, I did. I noticed a difference in my coaching presence and in my performance as a coach. So, before starting a coaching session a breathing space is required, a space that will allow you to wear your coaching hat, to reconnect with the coaching process and with the specifics of your client. A good way to do it is by reviewing notes from previous sessions.

 

Linking between sessions

Reviewing notes from previous sessions can also be helpful for making the connection between sessions in a creative way. Clients do not always come to the coaching session as prepared as we would like them to come. A client might have committed to take a specific action in the previous session but we don’t have any idea whether this action has really been taken. And if we don’t ask, the client possibly won’t tell us either. Furthermore, there might be a need to continue the conversation from where we left it in the previous session. So, the question “what would you like to discuss today”, is a good way to start a coaching conversation but not without reference to what was discussed in the last session. The coaching agenda belongs to the client but often we need to act as a reminder of what made sense to the client as a coaching topic in previous sessions, especially if we feel that the client has not made any progress yet with regard to issues discussed previously.

 

Dancing with the client

A coaching session is a dance with your client. Have you ever taken any dance lessons? When I was learning to dance salsa, after a couple of lessons I had learned the basic step. “That’s that!”, I thought, “I can now dance.” Well, I was far from that! I hadn’t realized back then that dancing is more than learning the basic step. Of course, learning the basic step is a starting point. But to really dance it takes time. If I could observe myself on the dance floor, I would know that what I was doing after a couple of dancing lessons was not dancing at all. Both coaching and dancing require three things: practice, practice and practice.

So, what looks like a dance with a client is a coaching session? It means letting the client take the lead, while the coach is just following along. It means harmony and magic. It means letting go of your coaching agenda and be present in the moment. It means trusting your intuition and allowing client to trust theirs.

 

Awareness and action

Recently, at the end of a coaching session, I asked a client, “can you think of any actions to take during the week in relation to this?”. The moment I asked this question, I realized that it was the wrong question to ask. Why is that? Because, during the session the client had reached such a great awareness in relation to the topic discussed that the thought of taking further action within such a short period just seemed out of place. Action is not only about doing but also about being. Raising our awareness on something is like taking action… in our heads. And it is an action that also takes time to be completed and settle. As coaches we should be aware of these internal processes and allow our clients to take their time and prepare themselves for a next step.

 

The role of tools

Assessments, questionnaires, visualization exercises are some of the tools that coaches have in their handbags. Having a variety of tools to choose from, creates a feeling of security to the coach. Tools can enrich a coaching session and support a client in their discovery journey.  However, tools should be used with caution. A coach needs to travel light. Coaches should not be attached to their tools because tools do not replace the coaching presence and the coaching competencies. Coming to a coaching session with the intent to use some specific tools means coming to a session with an agenda. And coaches need to always leave their agendas behind. Thus, the use of tools should be integrated in a coaching session in a creative way and only if it really serves the client and the client offers permission.

 

The role of personal development

The most important learning, for me probably, is how much the personal development of coaches influences their coaching performance. This is linked to a number of reasons and coaching factors and is further explored in my previous post “Psychological Dimensions of Coaching”. It is a realization that serves my commitment to my continuous improvement as a person and strengthens it.

 

Self evaluation after sessions

If we are committed to our continuous improvement as coaches, we need to spend some time on reflection after each coaching session. “What did you learn from the session?” “What would you do differently next time?” These are questions that can help us evaluating ourselves and our performance as coaches after a session. Coaching is a never ending journey and there is always room for improvement. Self evaluation after sessions is a way to consciously pursue improvement and accelerate it. Checking often with the client what works and what doesn’t and asking for feedback after each session can also support our self evaluation as coaches.

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Psychological dimensions of coaching

This post is based on insights and takeaways gained from a book that I was recently reading: “Psychological Dimensions of Executive Coaching” (2006), written by Peter Bluckert.  Even though the book focuses on executive coaching, the psychological dimensions of coaching relate to all types of coaching.

What are the psychological dimensions of coaching? To answer this question, we need to consider the key dimensions of a coaching session. According to Peter Bluckert, these are four:

a)      The client’s story

b)      The client’s emotions

c)       The client’s thoughts

d)      The coach’s use of self

These four dimensions are interrelated to each other. In a coaching session the client always comes with a story. The client wishes to tell the story to help the coach understand the background of the issue that he /she brings to the coaching session. Storytelling is just one dimension in a coaching session and a skillful coach needs to go beyond that. And beyond that lies the understanding of the client’s thinking processes and emotions.  The client’s storytelling is always full of personal interpretations and beliefs and is emotionally charged.  The coach’s job is to listen without judgment and support the client to become aware of his / her emotions and thoughts in relation to objective facts. Coaching is future oriented and is about helping a client move forward. Raising the client’s awareness on an emotional and cognitive level is the crucial first step towards learning and change. The coach’s use of self is inevitably a key dimension in a coaching session that requires a lot of attention.  The coach is not there to share his / her  own thoughts, opinions, worldviews and judgments. The coach is there to reflect back and help the client reach their own conclusions and take their own decisions.

Considering more deeply the causes and meanings of behavior, thoughts and feelings, requires a certain level of psychological skill and competence. According to Peter Bluckert the foundation stone of this competence is psychological mindedness. And how is the competence of psychological mindedness developed? Does one need to study psychology or become a licensed psychotherapist? The answer is NO. It is simply a matter of personal development and personal development is not a simple matter. However, it is an essential element in the development of a coach and it can be argued that it is as crucial as or even more crucial than the development of coaching skills. The development of psychological mindedness requires great self and social awareness, a commitment to continuous personal development, a desire for introspection, an openness to the unknown, and a mindfulness approach to living. It requires being present into NOW and being genuinely curious.

In his book Peter Bluckert highlights the commonalities between coaching and the Gestalt school of psychology. “The fundamental premises upon which both Gestalt and coaching theory are based have much in common. Both are founded on awareness as the precursor to change and each stresses the paramount importance of choice and personal responsibility.” Bluckert explores the application of the Gestalt perspective in executive coaching.

An important proposition of Gestalt about our nature and our change processes as human beings is that we seek to gain closure around issues. According to Gestalt our functioning is a cyclical process that is called the cycle of experience. “Our needs (figures – whatever occupies the foreground of your interest right now) arise from the ground (all those things that go to comprise our background) and are satisfied producing a withdrawal of interest in a cyclical or wave-like rhythmic pattern. This is typically represented in the cycle of experience, a seven-stage process beginning with sensation, moving through awareness and energy mobilization to action and contact producing resolution/ closure and withdrawal of interest.”

Learning, and therefore change, from a Gestalt perspective has to do with changing the ground, not just the figure. Clients often need to dig deeper within the ground to find unfinished businesses, things that they need to get closure on in order to move forward. In this respect, the coach’s job is to identify where the client is standing now and help them raise their awareness, move forward in the cycle of experience and take actions with the aim of getting closure around a specific issue and reach the withdrawal of interest.

What I learned as a client

As a client of who, you might wonder. The answer is, as a client of some great coaches. An important step in the professional development of every coach is to be a client himself/ herself. It is an amazing experience that can benefit the coach both as a person and as a professional.  In this post I would like to share what I learnt from being myself a client in coaching sessions.

Coaching is a fantastic learning experience

We all learn differently and there are different ways of learning. Reading a book for example is a way of learning. Attending a lecture is another way of learning. Which ways of learning do you enjoy the most? How do you learn best? Some ways of learning are more passive while other ways of learning are more active. According to my experience, active ways of learning work better.

Imagine attending a lecture where someone talks for an hour. Of course you will have learned some stuff after the lecture. You will have kept notes that you can take with you and review anytime. Imagine being a lecturer yourself. You have done your research on a topic and you have created a great presentation. In which of the two situations have you learned more?

Coaching is closer to the second case but goes beyond it. It is an interactive way of learning.  Imagine bringing to a coaching conversation a topic that you want to explore. The coach supports you in looking your topic from different angles. He/ She helps you to realize what you need to research further and/ or what kind of actions you need to take. The coach is there for you while you take these actions and is there for you to explore it further. Coaching is an approach than can really accelerate the learning process. You learn in your own pace, the way you want to learn and by doing so the positive effect in your learning cycle can be tremendous.

Topics can emerge out of nowhere

When you are unfamiliar with the coaching process you might worry that you have no topics to discuss. After all your life is so perfect right now and you don’t have any problems. Well, the truth is that coaching is not necessarily about solving problems. Something in your life might be good enough but is it perfect? For example you might be happy with the personality you have developed over the years. But are you 100% happy with the person you have become? Aren’t there any characteristics in your personality that you would like to improve further?

During my sessions as a client I realized that there is always room for improvement. My coaches helped me to explore the different aspects of my life and realize that there are many areas on which I could potentially use some coaching.

Going beyond talking out loud

And yes, coaching goes beyond talking out loud. Although talking out loud can be useful, we often get caught up in an endless self talk and fail to see beyond that. Self talk is about reinforcing our current way of seeing things, our current beliefs. “My boss hates me”, “I will never make it”, “They don’t respect my feelings”. Often we forget that the way we see things is just a perspective and there are other perspectives that could serve us better.  Sometimes we even fail to separate objective facts from beliefs. As a result we might get caught up in a never-ending vicious circle.

During my coaching sessions as a client I had the opportunity to work on different disempowering beliefs that I had and get rid of them. This not only changed my perception of reality, but also I gained a greater level of happiness. And that was really a valuable learning.

Coaching can really go deep

That coaching can really go deep is not obvious to everyone. Someone once told me that coaching is good for things like time management and nothing more. Well, according to the understanding I gained as a client, I can tell you that this perception is totally wrong.  Coaching can really go deep and can raise the level of awareness of a client.

If you are working with a coach towards achieving a goal, time management is an aspect involved and is a relatively important aspect. We could, however, argue that there are other aspects involved that are even more important. One of these aspects is alignment.  A person really cannot be dragged towards achieving a goal. If a person sets out to pursue a goal, which is not in alignment with his /her values and his/ her life purpose, it is clear that this person will not commit himself/ herself to the achievement of this goal. Furthermore if this person does not clear up the various disempowering beliefs that might block him /her along the way, he / she might even give up.

Coaching is probably the most effective structure for supporting a person achieving goals by removing this kind of obstacles. Therefore, coaching can play a huge role in the journey of a person towards self discovery and self development.

Destination vs Journey – a power tool*

 1.       Life as a journey

Life is a journey in every sense and on every level…  we go from childhood to old age… from ignorance to enlightment… from not knowing to suspecting… from suspecting to knowing. If life is a journey then we are some kind of travelers. We travel through space and time.  We travel with our physical bodies or sometimes without them within our imagination and within our emotions.

 2.       The traveler and the tourist analogy

“What is the difference between a traveler and a tourist?”

“The tourist goes to some place for a week, a month or even a year but in their heart they know that they will return.  The traveler goes to some place and they don’t really know if they ever come back.”

I always remember this dialogue from a film I had watched in my twenties called “Sheltering Sky”. Sometimes I even ask myself “Am I a traveler or a tourist?”

Let’s explore a little bit the concept of traveler. The traveler has realized that it is the journey that matters. The traveler really focuses on the journey. He/ She is not afraid of the unknown and is always excited about what is coming next. He /She is curious to explore new places both in and outside their hearts, both in and outside other people.

It is the heart and the state of mind of a traveler with all their curiosity that makes life so exciting. We all have experienced traveling and we all have experienced this feeling of excitement. Why then not bring it into our daily lives? We don’t have to get a plane or a boat ticket to feel like travelers. There are a lot of unknown places to explore within us and others. Just pause for a moment and try some mindfulness. Even a walk that you have taken a thousand times before, becomes different and exciting. And yes, the state of mind of a traveler is linked to a mindfulness state of mind.  And this is something we all have experienced in our travelling as well.  Can you remember yourself taking deep breaths while enjoying a beautiful countryside in some faraway land, wanting the moment to last forever? And can you imagine having this mindfulness state of mind of the traveler always in your daily life?

3.       Journey vs Destination

Journey vs Destination really means focusing on the journey instead of focusing on the destination. It means not being attached to the final destination. It does not mean not having a destination at all. The destination must be there to inspire you to set out on the journey.  The destination is your vision and your end goal. In between, there are smaller destinations and a lot of travelling.  Reaching your destination is just a moment in time but travelling towards your destination is every moment in time.

Journey vs Destination means being present in the moment and enjoy the process towards reaching a goal. It also means being fully aware of the change process and things that need to be addressed along the way.  Very often we need to be flexible and adjust the initial goals if the process takes us somewhere differently. As we embark in a process of change and on a journey towards reaching a goal, the initial understandings about the goal and our expectations might change. So, destination vs journey also means that we continuously examine where we are and where we want to be.

* The Power Tools™ which have been developed by the International Coach Academy (ICA) are a way to support participants in the discovery of perspective, and the role it plays in achieving results. Journey vs Destination is a power tool developed by Panagiotis Ntouskas following the ICA approach.

The EVOLVE2WIN coaching model

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The EVOLVE2WIN is a coaching model that has been developed by Panagiotis Ntouskas. The model aims at assisting personal and professional transformation. It is a model orientated towards effectively implementing change in personal and professional life. The model is designed to support leaders, executives and other individuals in the process of evolution towards business excellence, sustainable leadership and personal growth.

 There are six steps in the EVOLVE part of the model:

Explore

Values

Organize

Live

Validate

Equilibrium

Coaching using the EVOLVE2WIN model is a round trip. As you complete a circle your aim is to WIN. WIN is an ongoing process and relevant to all steps of EVOLVE. You complete an EVOLVE circle and then you start a new one. In the new one, you will WIN again but on a higher level.  WIN means

Be Wide awake. Continuously raise your awareness as you evolve

Be Inspired and motivated to move on and evoke change

Naturally flow. Focus on the journey instead of the destination. Experience balance within yourself. Be present in the moment.

 Explore

This step is an explorative phase for both the client and the coach. The coach helps the clients understand what is coaching and what possible benefits they can expect.  In this step the coaching environment is created and the agreement is set. The coach and the client explore together possible coaching agendas, priorities and goals.

Values

In this step is clarified what values the client most. Values, life purpose, professional desires, dreams, etc are to be thoroughly examined during this step.  Strengths are also to be assessed. The aim is to ensure an alignment between what the client values most, what the client needs and what is going to be pursued in the following steps.

Organize

This step is about planning. Action and self development plans are particularized. Structures that can support the client are also discussed and set. The accountability approach must be also decided during this step.

Live

This step is about doing. The clients take the actions that committed themselves to take. This step is not just about doing. It is also about being. The client is fully aware of the change that is pursued, is fully present in the change process and actively experiences the change.

Validate

In the ISO 9001:2000 standard validation is defined as “confirmation through the provision of objective evidence that specified requirements have been fulfilled”.  In this step, which is very important for the learning process, results of the actions taken are discussed in relation to expectations and the goals that were initially agreed upon.  Possible corrective actions are decided.

Equilibrium

This is the time for reflection after the completion of the project or the completion of important milestones. This is the time to acknowledge what has been accomplished and celebrate success or learn from mistakes. This is the time to reflect on the question “did I WIN?”

EVOLVE 2 be Wide awake

In WIN, W stands for Wide awake. The coach supports the clients to raise their awareness in relation to actions that need to be taken, actions taken and the lessons learned. The “where I am now” and the “where I want to be” need to be discussed anew.

EVOLVE 2 be Inspired

In WIN, I stands for Inspire. This is about the client’s motivation to move forward and complete the EVOLVE round trip and take another one if it has been completed. Reasons behind a potential lack of motivation are to be addressed.

EVOLVE 2 Naturally flow

In WIN, N stands for Naturally flow. This refers to personal and professional balance. It is important to examine in the process of EVOLVE the natural flow of things. If the process of change does not flow naturally and the clients are not in balance with themselves then possible reasons must be examined. Helping clients to focus on the journey instead of the destination and the implementation of other power tools can support clients in shifting perspectives and getting rid of blockages that hinder their balance and their natural flow in the change process.