Our beliefs and filters tend to keep us doing the same things that we have always done: they, along with the way we think about things, determine what we do. Our ability to break out of the programming inherited from our childhood, our society, and business norms can improve our effectiveness, define who we are as individuals, and shape our destiny. We can break out, but it’s difficult using willpower alone.
We are usually unaware of the existence of our own filters, and much of our background thinking and behaviours. We are inside them, in the same way that a golfer is inside his or her golf swing. We can see the results, but not what we are doing to create those results. It is not possible to take a swing at a golf ball, which requires us to be fully engaged in the activity, and also to be fully aware of everything that appears to be happening from an external perspective. We need a video camera, and/or an expert coach, to provide external feedback in combination with a sense and understanding of our own internal dialogue.
We have all had experiences where we have done things that are inconsistent with our consciously-held beliefs and goals. The classic examples are around bad habits like smoking, overeating or drinking – our unconscious mind can lead us to undertake certain behaviours automatically even when we think we don’t really want to.
We all get loads of feedback, whether we like it or not. But uninvited and unstructured feedback can just add to the confusion. The trick is to find a coach who knows about the mechanics of the mind and can deliver evidence-based feedback, challenges and suggestions that are targeted and useful.
Working with a skilful coach enables us to shift and improve our awareness, modify our filters and some of our unconscious beliefs, and improve our effectiveness in achieving what we want. Coaching provides us with new feedback, new insights and new choices that operate at a higher level than we can operate at alone.
Benefits of coaching
Although most business and sports coaches would say that the main purpose of coaching is performance improvement, the emergence of life coaches in recent years suggests that there is an additional hunger for guidance on life’s issues, not just with business performance or sporting prowess.
Our own observation of exemplary coaches suggests that, at its best, coaching can:
- Improve individual and team performance
- Help to clarify life’s purpose
- Enable growth and change through helping an individual to identify …
- Goals that will increase success and/or fulfilment in professional and/or personal contexts
- The obstacles and barriers to progress and happiness, and the resolution of them
- Be therapeutic by helping the individual to
- Recognise incongruence in their life
- Let go of any impediments to progress
- Identify how their current situation is a result of the ‘system’ within which they operate and the decisions they have made in relation to that system
- Provide a safe environment within which people can clarify their thoughts, achievements and next steps.
Being a coach
We need to be clear about what our role is, and to ensure that it is the same as our coachee’s view when we come to make the first intervention.
Someone who is operating as a coach in a business environment with their colleagues may adopt different boundaries (from their side) and gain less permission (from the coachee’s perspective) when compared to someone operating from a totally independent position. The coach’s level of competence, experience and confidence will also play a part in determining the scope and effectiveness of any conversation.
The two keys at the heart of any coaching intervention are Awareness and Accountability:
- Awareness operates at many different levels. A coach can help someone become much more aware of what’s going on around them so that their understanding is enriched. The coach can also help people become more aware of their internal thoughts, images, dialogue (self-talk) emotional feelings and the links between them. Practice and feedback will progressively add further layers.
- Accountability (or responsibility) means that both the coach and the coachee take specific responsibility for their decisions and actions.
Characteristics of exemplary coaches
Exemplary coaches show the following characteristics:
- Listen more than they speak
- Focus on the client’s needs
- Infer the implicit values that drive, or prevent, a certain behaviour
- Exhibit high empathy
- Encourage the coachee to …
- Increase their awareness of the complete ‘system’ within which the opportunity or problem exists
- Accept responsibility for the situation and its resolution
- Test their commitment to any chosen decision or option
- Keep their own stuff out of the dialogue
- The ability to use clean language that enables the coachee to discover the best way forward for themselves, combined with specific directional questioning that encourages movement towards decisions and conclusions.
- Non-judgemental in their approach
- Put their own biases and prejudices on one side
- Willing to address whatever issue the coachee presents
- Have the courage to challenge the coachee where appropriate
- Maintain high awareness of the whole system within which a particular opportunity or problem exists so that the needs of all parties are considered
- Ability to scope an intervention, depending on time/context/experience etc.
- Can deal effectively with emotions (high Emotional Intelligence), including their own.
- Recap regularly to check understanding and to maintain the client’s engagement.