Think of coaching as consisting of a deeply collaborative relationship involving three vital elements: Situation Assessment, Self-Exploration, and Development. And none of this happens without trust.
Collaboration, of course, can deepen only with trust. Trust in what? Trust in the coach’s sincerity and commitment to your well-being. Trust in the coach’s professional competence to generate accurate and meaningful insights and practical suggestions. Trust in the coach’s personal integrity to keep confidences and place your interests above all else. Trust in the coach’s capacity to be candid and “tell it like it is.”
Trust grows as we move through the three vital elements, so let’s turn to a discussion of them.
Getting to know the person and helping her gain fresh, practical, role-relevant insight into herself cannot happen without a thorough grasp of her operating environment and social-organizational context. I go about this with three lines of inquiry in mind:
Tell me about your role, your key relationships and interdependencies, the top priorities and challenges you face, and how all of this relates to the company’s business imperatives.
What’s new and different for you in your current role, business situation, and the kinds of challenges that it presents – what do you need to learn and do well?
How will your effectiveness be evaluated by your boss and by other stakeholders, and also by you – that is, what would you most like to accomplish from this phase of your career?
The situation assessment is interview-based, often including some conversation with key stakeholders. But there is another in-depth personal interview that I find very helpful as means getting to know the person. There’s also some additional formal assessment that is also quite helpful:
Tell me about your personal history, where you grew up, your family of origin, and also about your education and work history, so that I can understand what has shaped you as a person and a professional - embedded in this are motivations and aspects of one’s self-concept.
Then, we’ll use the results from some assessment questionnaires – personality, interpersonal style, 360 feedback – as a stimulus for discussion, asking “how might these data, tendencies, and personal qualities be relevant to me, in my role, and affect my performance at this point in time?”
Coaching begins with the first conversation and throughout all the prior steps – it’s a form of interaction not merely a procedure or step-wise process. Insights, trust, and their felt effects build along the way to catalyze coach and client. We’re figuring out what we need to learn at this time in life.
This insight and learning first takes form as themes, threads of meaning or narratives that seem to have particularly positive relevance now, in your current situation, as if to say, “If I were able to include more of that in my approach to work, I think everything would work better.”
Themes are not yet goals, so we must then ask, “What would it look like if I approached this specific stream of work, project, or key relationship with that theme in mind? What would I be doing differently, better?” This creates a concrete opportunity for developmental action.
Skill-building and action strategies can now be linked to goal-direct plans. We can begin to experiment with trying to use these new ways of thinking, acting, and interacting, and we can process that experience to acquire greater insight and further shape our performance.
We can also be learning how to elicit feedback from others along the way, not just “how am I doing?”, but “how is this working and how are we doing?” Of course, if there’s progress you’ll also experience more ease and confidence.
Sound simple? Well, it’s taken me quite a while to see the experience in simple clarity. On that note I am wont to quote Oliver Wendell Holmes: “For the simplicity on this side of complexity, I wouldn't give you a fig. But for the simplicity on the other side of complexity, for that I would give you anything I have.”