CoachingExcellence

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

Do you have an Ethics Lifeline?

Who do you reach out to when the waters get a little rough in your one-on-one with coaching clients?
 

I received a call from a former student and colleague the other day. She was facing a challenge with a coaching client and needed help thinking through how to handle it. The challenge had to do with Ethics - which is not unusual when I receive these types of calls.  I think she had a pretty good idea of what needed to be done, but it wasn’t straightforward and she felt that there were risks in all directions. It was ambiguous (maybe something was amiss, or maybe not), it involved her client and others in the organization, and the worst-case scenario was serious enough that ignoring it wasn’t an option. It was helpful for her to talk it through, and she came away with a plan and the conviction that taking action was the right thing to do.

In my Coaching Master Class, we talk about Ethics first, and spend more time on it than the other competencies. In my initial class design, I put Ethics at the beginning because I thought it was a topic that we would discuss without much pre-work, as a way to “warm up” before hitting our stride with real coaching topics.


After 10 cohorts, I now see that putting Ethics first was a great decision - it is a real coaching topic. 


In listening to the ethical situations the students bring to the class, I see that Ethics is an undercurrent in our relationships with our clients and their sponsoring organizations.  They can arise right at the beginning or at any time during the engagement. They impact the services we offer and how we build our businesses, especially if we offer more than coaching.  Whenever they come up, they can knock us off center and disrupt the coaching engagement.


Talking about Ethics proactively – that is, before we need to make some of those difficult choices - is important. Many of the Coaching Master Class students have been grateful for that opportunity and have made specific changes to their coaching agreements and initial conversations with clients and sponsors. They are ready to handle some common ethical challenges before they become a problem.


Through the conversations, students also realize the value of getting different perspectives and hearing the experiences of their peers. We talk about having a “lifeline” - someone to call to help when you're facing a challenge. Your lifeline won’t have the answer, but will listen, ask questions, notice emotions that might be getting in your way, challenge your assumptions, and refer you back to the Code of Ethics and your coaching agreements for guidance. Your lifeline is a coach, really, to help you do what needs to be done to stay aligned with your ethical code.


The coach who called me had been through those conversations in the Coaching Master Class and had done some research on ethics in coaching relationships. She had the advantage of that proactive thinking, and had the phone number of her lifeline ready.


From teaching the Coaching Master Class, I’ve learned that it’s important that we stop and talk about Ethics periodically, to check in on the ethical challenges that are cropping up in your real-world experiences. The conversations remind us of what’s expected when we face these challenges, and prepare us for when they do occur.


Who is your Ethics Lifeline?

 

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What will you Start, Stop and Continue to Become a Better Coach?

Awareness - that window into what’s working and what’s not - is the foundation for change. 

 
The coaching profession values learning. In fact, coaching is all about learning. Our clients learn about themselves and howthey relate to the world. They learn new approaches to their challenges, either through new attitudes or behaviors. They learn to be more aware of the world around them and what’s happening inside of them.
 
It makes sense that coaches should be continuing their own learning, increasing their awareness and learning new approaches to their coaching and their relationships with clients.
 
Many consultants, facilitators, and coaches I know use the START/STOP/CONTINUE model to define how the future should be different than the past. They ask “What do you know to do that you want to START doing in the future? What are you doing now that doesn’t work that you want to STOP? What is still working that you want to CONTINUE?”
 
I think it’s useful to use this model when thinking about your own learning and how to improve your coaching.
 
What do you know about your coaching that is working well? How can you CONTINUE to do these things with confidence?
 
What do you know about your coaching that is just not working – for you or the client? How can you STOP doing those things in the future?
 
And where do you feel you have deficiencies? It could be things that you know you should be doing, but aren’t. Or you’re facing situations or clients that you’re not sure how to handle, and need new skills or approaches to feel more capable. What do you need to START to handle these better?
 
Before you answer these questions, take a minute to reflect. Do you know enough about your coaching to make good decisions about what to START/STOP/CONTINUE?
 
From my experience, it’s hard for coaches, on their own, to objectively view their own coaching. They have questions rather than clarity about whether what they are doing is working. So they are unsure whether to STOP or CONTINUE.
 
Their clients are happy and telling them the coaching is great, and they don’t have another way to tell is something is missing. It’s hard to START something to fill a gap when they’re not even aware of the gap.
 
Awareness, that window into what’s working and what’s not, is the foundation for change. Equally important is a model of coaching that sets a standard of what’s effective. Looking at your coaching (with an learners eye) against a model (that you believe in), you can start to understand what you can Start/Stop/Continue to become a better coach.
 
It’s further complicated when you consider that how well you coach depends on what you do and how you “be” while you’re coaching. Your technique might be fine, but your “being” might affect your ability to listen to and hear your client’s emotions or energy. Or you might have a connected and supportive way of “being”, but forget to challenging your client, or holding them accountable.
 
When was the last time you honestly reflected on your coaching against what you were taught? When was the last time you recorded a coaching session and listened carefully to see if you are using all of the coaching competencies? When was the last time someone you respected as an experienced coach listened to your coaching and gave you feedback?
 
Isn’t it time you made a serious commitment to START/STOP/CONTINUE for the sake of you coaching and your clients?
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What do you notice about your questions?

"Care is asking the right questions."  See what they mean in this What? How? (Whirlpool Washer/Dryer commercial).


I'm not endorsing the company, just acknowledging their clever use of Questions in this ad ;-)


What do you notice about your questions?


It’s a simple question, really. We ask the students in the Georgetown Leadership Coaching Program to observe their questions and reflect on what they notice.

Hundreds of student coaches have written this paper over the years. I read through another batch just this morning, and was – again – delighted and inspired by what the students learn. 

We assign this paper because it’s important for coaches to be aware of the questions they ask, the questions they avoid, and how the context impacts their questioning.  This awareness is a foundation for moving into being thoughtful and artful in using questions in coaching conversations.

But the real learning is much deeper, varied, nuanced, and personal.  This learning often comes as a surprise. The student becomes aware that how he/she asks questions is a reflection of how he/she sees the world and his/her place in it. And the “world” is their relationships, their role in workplace power dynamics, or their own master self-assessments, fundamental fears, deep passions. Their patterns of asking questions grow out of a lifetime of past experiences, culture and family relationships, and years of professional training.

To move into coaching is to leave behind one view of the world and embody another, in which you are someone who loves questions; who is confident asking questions that feel too probing and too personal; who can draw out deeper insight and meaning with just a question. 

What are you noticing about your questions?

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How Does a Coach Listen?

Creativity and finding new paths requires listening to what is and imagining what could be...

T-Shirt seen on the streets of Bath, Maine Summer 2015

 

“Active Listening” is a familiar term. In general, it describes listening that requires effort by the listener to be attentive, use body language to communicate that attentiveness, and restate or summarize what is heard and understood.
 
This type of listening is important for coaches. But is being actively attentive enough to help our clients find new perspective and awareness, to break out of their current reality to see future possibilities? What does active listening mean for coaches?
 
The ICF defines Active Listening as “The ability to focus completely on what the client is saying and is not saying, to understand the meaning of what is said in the context of the client's desires, and to support client self-expression.”
 
To me, a coach listens beyond and around what the client is sharing, tuning into patterns of thought; topics skipped over or avoided; shifts in emotions, tone or energy; charged words, phrases or metaphors; incongruities between words, emotions, and body. The coach also listens to her own experience of the client, noticing her own shifts in energy, focus, and the curious questions that bubble up inside her.   Listening in this way allows us to find paths to explore that the client may not have seen on their own.
 
Our listening creates the space for our client to talk, reflect, and explore. It impacts the quality of our questions and observations.  It sets the direction we use to guide the coaching conversation.
What is your understanding of “Active Listening” for coaches? If you were observing a coach, how would you know the quality of their listening? How do you know if you are listening at your best?
 
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A Safe and Courageous Space for Coaches

This lace shawl was made possible by my friend and knitting expert (Cheryl) who steps in to help with any of my challenges. She creates a safe and courageous space on my journey to knitting mastery!

In my coach training with CTI, I remember learning the "new" idea of creating a safe and courageous space for our clients. I immediately realized that the “space” in my workplace was neither safe nor courageous. Not that is was dangerous, mind you. But it was an environment where you didn’t want to rock the boat too much and you certainly couldn’t show any weakness or uncertainty.  Moving up in the organization required a great deal of either courage or naiveté, because you were on your own to figure out how to do the new job, without ever admitting to uncertainties or asking too many questions.
 
Many gatherings of coaches feel that way to me, too. They are a places to put your best foot forward, to talk about how much work you have, mention the high-profile clients you’re working with (with permission, of course), and retell stories of your coaching triumphs.  I find myself holding back from these conversations, because the conversation I really want to have includes revealing the challenges and struggles we’re having as coaches.  
 
I want a safe and courageous space to talk about our coaching.
 
The Coaching Master Class (formerly the PCC Master Class) is such a space. Students who’ve completed the program have appreciated the level of honesty they can bring as they share their personal challenges. They’ve found a space of non-judgement and exploration. And they challenge themselves and each other to address those challenges head-on by practicing new coaching moves with their clients.
 
Class highlights
  • Small class size (maximum of 5 students)
  • 18 Core Competency CEUs, 0.5 Resource Development CEUs, 3 Ethics CEUs
  • 8 tele-classes for lecture and discussion
  • Homework assignments to deepen your learning
  • $1,450.00 class fee
 
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