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

Creating Silence


The scene in the photo above literally stopped my in my tracks. I was hustling from Georgetown's building on Mass Ave. to meet a friend for dinner and passed this opening between the buildings. Stunned by the glowing purple sunset, I stopped and (of course!) had to capture it with my camera. There's nothing like a gorgeous sunset to take my breath away and create a pause in my thinking and my purpose.

Powerful questioning in a coaching conversation can do the same. They can be magical. When your questions are working, they seem simple and effortless. It's not just the words we use. It's the pace and timing, and the intention behind the words. It's not just one question, either. It's a group of questions that respond to the client, build on a theme, or shift their perspective in a new direction.

And, sometimes, it's what we don't say or don't do that creates what our client needs - silence.

I was reminded of this the last time I was in DC, staying with friends and teaching coaching.

I was playing “What’s That?” with the precious two-year old son of my friends. I had turned the tables on him. Instead of being on the receiving end of his incessant questions, I was questioning him. He quickly answered when I pointed to his socks, pants, shirt, hair, and nose, but was stumped when I touched his forehead. He paused, looked around, and there was an unusual silence. I resisted the temptation to tell him the answer or move on to his arms and fingers.

After a what seemed like an endless pause, he started to speak… “ffff…”. Another pause, then “fffooorrr…”.

More quiet and glances around the room. Suddenly he looked back at me and said “fore….head!” with a big smile.  I was delighted! And grateful I had allowed the silence for him to think and create a new connection between his forehead and its name.

The next day I was with a group of students, observing their coaching. One coach had the good fortune to ask a question that the client didn’t answer right away. To her credit, the coach endured the silence and waited. In our debrief discussion, the coach admitted that she was mortified, thinking that the client didn’t understand the question. The client countered that the question was a tough one. She needed the time to think.  It was the perfect opportunity to remind the students that clients will tell you, pretty quickly, if they don’t understand your question.

The questions that invoke silence have taken them to a place where there isn’t an easy answer.

When you have the good fortune to create that silence, take a deep breath, stay connected to your client, and wait. What’s happening in the silence is more valuable than anything you can say.

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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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Coaching Presence: Are you with your client right NOW!

A Mentor Coaching Story


I was listening to a coaching recording, getting ready to give the coach feedback to support his development as a coach. “So far, so good”, I thought. Bob (not his real name) was asking open-ended and curious questions, he and the client were working on a clear coaching topic, and he seemed fully engaged in the conversation. 

As I continued listening, I noticed a subtle shift in Bob’s coaching. At the beginning, he seemed slightly behind the client, asking questions about what she had said a few seconds earlier and missing what she had just said. Not a big concern, but I started to be curious.  A little later, he was very connected to the client and focused on what she was sharing in the moment.  “Better”, I thought, but now I was curious to know what had changed for the coach.  In the last section, as the conversation shifted to designing action, Bob’s coaching shifted again. Now he was ahead of the client, expressing his ideas for her future and pushing her forward, while she was still clearly pondering the present moment and exploring what she was learning. 

 
 
Now I was truly curious - not about the client - but about the coach. What was going on  to cause Bob’s focus to shift so dramatically as the coaching conversation progressed?
 

When was the last time someone listened to your coaching
with curiosity
about you? 
 
When we coach, we’re in a private conversation with the client. All the focus is on the client.  So who is paying attention to the coach? Who is listening objectively, being curious about the choices the coach is making, and noticing patterns or subtle shifts in the coach’s language, emotions, and presence?
 
Without that objective view, how can we learn what we’re doing well, what we’re missing, and how we can continue to improve our coaching?  Relying on our client isn’t enough. Remember our clients aren’t experts in coaching. Relying on our own impressions of our coaching isn’t enough. We all have blind spots and selective memory.  And even additional coach training isn’t always enough. New knowledge about coaching or adding new coaching tools doesn’t always help us improve our day-to-day coaching.
 
Mentor Coaching fills that role. As defined by the ICF, Mentor Coaching is coaching on your coaching, based on actual recordings of you coaching a real client.  Your mentor coach listens to your coaching, makes note of what you’re doing well, and notices opportunities you missed, and patterns and habits you’ve developed. Then, in a coach-like conversation, gives you feedback and helps you to see where and how you can improve your coaching.
 

I like to think of a Mentor Coach as your “personal trainer”. Your Mentor Coach stands besides you, watching and listening, reminding you to do your best, encouraging you try something new, exploring what you need to push beyond your self-imposed limits.
 

Oh - and what about Bob?  In our Mentor Coaching discussion, I shared what I had noticed and we talked about what was happening for him during that session. At the beginning of the session, he was taking notes and this caused him to lag behind the client. In the middle, he relaxed and stopped taking notes.  Without thepen in his hand, he connected to the client and what she was saying. Near the end, he got excited about what was possible for his client. He disconnected and tried to pull her into his vision of the future. After our conversation, he saw that he could be a better coach by putting away the pen and paper, and setting aside his own excitement to stay connected to the client.  “Ahhh. Much better”, I thought.

 

If you're ready to look closely at your coaching, Mentor Coaching might be just right for you. Learn more here.

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On Listening


I had come to believe that the act of being listened to was far more important than being in the documentary itself and could be transformative in people’s lives, because no one had actually ever listened to them. 
David Isay on why he moved from making documentaries to StoryCorps.
 
When I travel, I load up my IPad with podcasts from my favorite radio shows. I can listen while I knit or crochet, so it feeds my need to be doing something meaningful with my hands and my head.
 
This morning, I sat down with my crocheted scarf project and an episode of On Being that all coaches should find interesting. It’s an interview with David Isay, the founder of StoryCorps, and the topic is “The Everyday Art of Listening”.  
 

I was intrigued to find that this interviewer holds listening as a way to transform people’s lives and the conversations they have with each other.  So much of what he shared is aligned with how coaches listen and why we listen, and affirms the transformation that we bring to our client’s by the gift of our listening and by bearing witness to their stories.
 
He also shares how he finds intense listening to be challenging and hard work, and something that he can’t do all the time and with all the people in their lives.  This, too, should be familiar to coaches - it certainly is for me!
 
I encourage you to find a quiet moment to listen to this extraordinary interview.
 
http://www.onbeing.org - April 17 episode.
 

 

StoryCorps is a project that collects the stories of everyday people in audio recordings, which are stored in the Library of Congress.  http://storycorps.org
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