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

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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Credential PSA: Procrastinators, take note!

If 2017 is your year to renew your ICF credential or you’re making the move from ACC to PCC, it’s not too early to be planning how you will meet the credential requirements!  And, if you wait until fall, it might be too late!

Over the years I’ve helped many coaches navigate this and have had my own last-minute scrambles to pull together my application, searching through ICF’s website to figure out what’s required, being surprised by new requirements, and spending hours pulling together the documentation.  I get a little nervous just thinking about it!

I’ve learned that it pays to create focus and intention around your credential applications. Here are my tips for successfully and easily navigating the process

PLAN AHEAD - Visit the ICF individual credential web pages and get familiar with the requirements for your situation. Bookmark the appropriate pages, then make a plan for putting together what you need for your application.

BE MINDFUL OF CHANGES - There is one thing we can always count on: Things are changing! This is great when it comes to continued growth and learning, but I understand that it can be frustrating when it comes to getting your credential application done. Some of the newer requirements can’t be done at the last minute!

Renewing your ACC?  You’ll need 10 hours of mentor coaching with someone who holds an ACC, PCC or MCC credential, to be held over at least 3 months.

Renewing your ACC, PCC or MCC? The ICF now requires three hours of Ethics Training.

New credential level? You will need to be able to pass the Coach Knowledge Assessment (CKA). Get ready by reviewing the Code of Ethics and the Core Coaching Competencies. Leave time to study these before you have to take the test. You do get a second chance, but you have to pay for it. Who wants that?!

BE YOUR BEST SELF: This process often takes longer than people expect and there will be many things on your to-do list, which aren’t always fun or interesting!  You know yourself and how you get things done. Are you a checklist follower? Do you need an accountability partner? Or would a group approach make this more fun and engaging? Create what you need to make this process work for you.

LEARN FROM THE EXPERIENCE! What are you noticing about this process? Which parts are harder or more annoying that they should be? I found it hard to document my CEUs when I had to search through my calendar and emails to find the information about the classes I took, so I’ve created a tracking and filing system that makes that part of the process extra easy. Learn from this year’s process, and take the time now to create the support structures you need to make your next application easier.

Our credential says a lot about who we are as coaches. Don’t let the credential process get in your way!

This is a “public service” message based on lessons learned from the coaches who have gone before you are in the credential application and renewal process. I’m happy to talk with you individually if you have questions.

SueMcLeod, PCC

Mentor Coaching and Coach Training

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www.suemcleodcoaching.com

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Artful Interrupting

In coaching, we talk and listen. We interrupt sometimes and stay silent at other times. How do we know when we’ve got the balance right, when we’re not letting the client talk too much, not interrupting at the wrong times, and when we aren’t taking up too much airtime ourselves?

The basic elements of any conversation - listening, speaking, interrupting, and staying silent. We use them all in coaching and each one isn’t hard to do. The art is knowing when.  When to listen and then listen some more? When to interrupt and insert something into the conversation? And what should you insert, a question or observation and how short or long should that take? When to allow for complete silence when neither you nor the client is speaking?

I wish there were some simple answers to this. I wish I could say that the coach should speak 25% of the time, or that the coach should always interrupt when the client has been talking for more than a minute. But, of course, coaching conversations are complex and unpredictable. More improv than script.

I think it’s helpful to go back to the basics and reground ourselves in the purpose of the coaching conversation and the role of the coach and client.

Here’s what I’ve come up with.

The purpose of the coaching conversation is for the client to make progress on the agenda they bring to the table, by creating new awareness or learning that allows them to move beyond their current thinking, and then commit to actions that will continue to move them forward after the coaching session is complete. This is done in the context of moving them towards the larger goals they set for themselves when they agreed to a coaching relationship.

The art of coaching is to partner with your client to create what she needs to make the progress she want to make.

The role of the client is to be very self-centered, to be thinking about herself, talking about herself, remembering her past, and imagining the future. 

The role of the coach is to be present and respond to the client while create the pathways to help the client to explore beyond their current thinking. The coach is keeping the discussion on track, and following the structure of “beginning, middle and end” of the coaching conversation. The coach also weaves together the current agenda with the client’s larger goals.

There’s no formula or algorithm that can describe what this sounds like. It’s improv, remember.

But here are some ideas of when the coach should be interrupting:

When the client has gotten off track. She said she wanted to talk about her boss, now she’s talking about a colleague. Interrupt to negotiate which path she wants to be on.  This is a quick trip back to Establishing the Coaching Agreement!

When you’ve heard the story before or she’s completed a cycle of logic that has her right where she started from. This is also a good time to interrupt and engage because your job is to help her find some new ways of thinking, not allow her to retrace the old paths.

When the client takes off talking before you’ve had a chance to set the agenda. Interrupt to create the structure that makes coaching a purposeful conversation - what’s the topic? what do you want from our conversation today? what’s important about that? what do you need to work on to make progress? where shall we begin?

And here are some times when you should refrain from speaking:

When you’ve asked a question and the client doesn’t answer right away. Don’t assume they didn’t understand and jump in to correct yourself. They’ll let you know if they’re confused. Silence usually means they are thinking, that they didn’t know the answer! This is a good thing. Give them as much silent time as they need to come up with an answer.

When you think of a great idea, that comes from your own experience, that you think the client “must know” or you believe will rock their world, and your tempted to share. Keep it to yourself for a little while. Reconnect with where your client is now, because being captured by your great idea has certainly taken you away from the present and your connection to the client. Ask another question or two. If your idea still has legs, share it with the client in no more than 2 sentences. Then ask them what they think about what you shared. Was it helpful? How can they use it to move them forward?

The best way to know how well you’re navigating a coaching conversation is to listen. Yes, that means to record a coaching conversation and listen.  What should you listen for? Great question. I’ll talk about that in my next post.

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Why Talk about Ethics in Coaching?

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Has someone asked you to break your confidentiality agreement with a client asking for information about what’s going on in a coaching relationship?

These situations are probably more common than we think. I’ve heard variations on this story when friends, peers, supervisors, HR staff, and other coaches ask for and expect the coach to share information about the client or the topics being discussed. It might be a casual “How’s that coaching going?” or a more formal invitation to provide insight like “Do you think the client is ready for that promotion?”. These requests are challenging because they create conflicts between the interests of the stakeholders in the coaching engagement. They can violate promises, expectations or agreements. And they put the coach in an uncomfortable position of not knowing what’s the right move to make.

Ethics in coaching is a topic that touches close to home for me. Making choices when there is a conflict between self-interest and “the right thing” has been a life-long challenge. From the petty shoplifting of a candy bar as a small child to falling in love with a client, my personal history is littered with examples where I had to make these tough choices. Many times I chose “right”, some times I did not.

As I’ve delved into Ethics in Coaching, I’ve come to appreciate it’s complexities and nuances. We make many decisions each day that are easily in line with our personal morals and professional ethics.  It’s the challenging situations that trip us up. My experience has taught me that coaches need to learn about, prepare for, and practice their responses to challenging ethical situations. It is also crucial to have a support system to help evaluate these challenging situations and make well-reasoned decisions about how to act.

Behaving ethically seems easy - in theory.

In theory, you dispassionately weigh the pros and cons, play out the possible scenarios and consequences, research what others have said and did, have rational conversations with the parties involved, and come to a well-reasoned and defensible decision on how to proceed.  But, let’s be honest, we’re never this logical, even for the easy decisions we make!

By their nature, situations that challenge us to act “ethically” are confusing, conflict-ridden, ambiguous, and risky. They can ask us to break promises or contractual agreements, or involve illegal and immoral behavior that can be embarrassing and shameful. The conflicts can attack the things we hold dear, like our reputation, important relationships, and self-image. They can put our livelihood at risk. They may hinge on something we did or said (or didn’t do or say) in the past that we wish we could erase but can’t. They can happen when we’re experiencing other pressures – like difficulties with our finances -- that make it harder to be impartial, objective, and rational.

In short, we’re dealing with situations that can hijack our rational thinking causing us to retreat into hiding, avoidance, rationalization and magical thinking. Without our rational minds to guide us, the “right thing to do” might seem unnecessary, at one extreme, or downright dangerous, at the other. 

There are many temptations in the coaching profession. We spend our time alone with clients in serious and personal conversations, in a trusting and intimate relationship. We work under an agreement of confidentiality, with little oversight or need to report to others. We are paid based on time spent with clients, and often get new business based on referrals and the “good word” of people we work with. We are often self-employed, with no “internal” support structure.  Personally, I was not prepared for the stresses of being self-employed with a young family in a new profession without a strong support group. I’m curious how prepared you feel for the life you lead as a coach.

I have no easy answer to questions that start with “how should I handle (insert your favorite ethical challenge)?”, because the answer depends on so many things. If you need immediate help, talk with someone you trust about the specifics. But now that I’ve got your attention, take this opportunity to be reflective and thoughtful about how to prepare for the future situations that will surely happen. Although you can’t predict what they will be, you can bolster your foundations to make tough choices. 

Find the ICF Code of Ethics and Professional Standards and read it through. Review the agreements you make with your clients and the contracts you sign with sponsors. Reflect on the challenges you’ve faced in the past, and the stories you’ve heard from your colleagues. Think about how you can be prepared and how you will respond to the common ethical challenges.

This is also an opportunity for self-reflection. What makes you vulnerable to being knocked off your ethical center? What are the triggers that take you out of your rational mind and how do they get activated? How can you prevent these and what support system do you need around you to keep you true to your ethics?

You have to DO Ethics, not just HAVE Ethics. Doing Ethics means making choices when there is no “right” and you might hurt yourself in the process. It’s harder than you think.

 

Two “out-of-the-box” references for exploring the complexity and nuances of Ethics.

In understanding how to handle ethical challenges, I think it’s important to understand human nature and motivations that drive our behavior. This means delving into the shadows where breaking rules, hiding information, taking risks, and doing damage seems to make sense.

If you’re curious to learn more, I have two recommendations:

Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely, especially Chapters 6 “The Influence of Arousal” and 13 “The Context of Our Character, Part 1: Why We Are Dishonest and What We Can Do About It”.   Revised and expanded edition published in 2009 by HarperCollins, New York.

This book has some eye-opening experiments and results that remind us that our rational brain is not always in charge, especially when there are opportunities to be dishonest or take advantage of others.

Spreier, Scott, Mary Fontaine, and Ruth Malloy. 2006. “Leadership run amok: The destructive potential of overachievers”. Harvard Business Review 84, no. 6:72.
Available from https://hbr.org/2006/06/leadership-run-amok-the-destructive-potential-of-overachievers

This great article that explores how a motive for achievement, when overplayed in an environment without constraints, can be destructive to businesses and the people working in them. 

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