Saturday, 17 November 2012

The power of coaching

Today's post from the land of ineptitude is brought to you by the concept of coaching, a much misunderstood and oft maligned idea. It thanks you for your attention...

Part of this ASLDP course I'm on (one of whose primary aims will be to get me to master the acronym before I'm through!) is recording our thoughts and experiences as aspiring senior leaders, hence the blogging thing. I talked about it during my first post. You may not remember. Pay attention please.

Yesterday I got the chance to use one of the concepts we've explored in our first session: coaching. In real life. With real consequences.  While dressed as Rob Roy. This last point is incidental and irrelevant, but hey, big it up for Children In Need please, and its remarkable ability to make teachers who are otherwise highly professional come in to work dressed insanely and, in my case, armed with a Claymore. At least I wasn't Chicken Lickin' or Bananaman (you know who you are...).

So, coaching. What a powerful idea. I've done some coaching before on an OTP course last year, and on the Leading From The Middle course years ago. In principle, I know it's a powerful idea, but I'm not sure I've ever got the most out of it, or understood the profundity of its power. But I was giving feedback on an observation yesterday to a colleague who knew exactly how the lesson had gone, and could tell me exactly what was good about it and what was not so good. I've been mentored before, and I know that this is the point where I should have got onto targets for improvement, "tweaks to transform", Even Better Ifs etc. And for a while the discussion did revolve around that, and then it didn't. I did a U-turn. Because what I was hearing underneath the words was about a profound feeling of anxiety that things couldn't get better, and I didn't see much point in going on with this elephant in the room. So together, my colleague and I rolled up our sleeves and we looked these worries in the face, and stared until they blinked first. A lot of teaching is about confidence, and without it, it's hard to act on suggested improvements. Lack of confidence is a paralytic, and an obstacle which, given all the external pressures on us as teachers, was one we could well do without. We talked about the issue, and as I asked questions, my colleague had epiphanies, and came up with the solutions, or at least had the willingness to try and come up with a variety of strategies to see if they improved things. We agreed to put them into action together, to bash ideas off each other whenever we needed, and I said I'd be there for support as and when required. And we left each other, both of us with a renewed sense of optimism about the future.

Thinking back on this last night, it struck me that today I'd coached for the first time, properly. I'd ignored my desires to solve the problem (typical bloke!), or to give solutions, and I'd listened really carefully. And that listening led to the turning point in the conversation, and quite possibly the relationship. We could have ploughed on towards targets and "must do betters", but we first needed to get this person in a frame of mind where they realised that this wasn't about them as a person, and shouldn't be impacting on their self-esteem. That they were fine as they were, in effect, as a human being. And they walked out with their head held high. And I walked back into my office, and felt like a good human being. As a teacher and as a potential leader, I'd just found the X on the treasure map.

To summarise this episode, here's what I've learnt: It may be useful to others, it may be you're already doing it. If you are, good for you: You are truly a special human being I would like to emulate.
  • Coaching isn't mentoring. It doesn't need to be done from a position of power or authority. It's done as a peer, from the position of an equal. This is important, as those of you who know anything about me will know there are few areas where I can genuinely speak to anyone from a position of authority or superior knowledge. Apart from on puddings. Or the misery of being a Scottish rugby supporter. Few can match my expertise in these fields. Unfortunately for me, their use is limited, and their earning potential even more so. But it means I can still coach.
  • Coaching requires equality, I've always been told. Actually it requires more than that. It requires the subjugation of your ego if you're the coach. It requires much listening and attention on the other person. It requires you not just to resist the urge to tell people how to do it, it needs you not even to think about how you would do it. How you would do something is irrelevant to the coaching situation, because you're not the other person, and they're ultimately the ones who have to do this for themselves. I have to work on that one.
  • Coaching is...
    • A journey which necessitates a relationship of trust
    • About unlocking potential, and about helping the person you coach to make themselves the best person they can possibly be in whatever sphere they are asking for coaching
    • Coaching is something which ought to be directed by the objectives of the person being coached, but you as the coach have to show them that you share those goals
    • Coaching should always be developmental and non-judgemental
    • Coaching should be challenging but supportive at all times. The challenge is implicitly being asked for when someone asks to be coached. If you haven't asked them whether they want to be coached or not (and I'm not sure I did yesterday), then the chances of them succeeding are small, because you're imposing on them. People need to know that they want to be coached in the first place.
    • Coaching is facilitative rather than didactic
    • Coaching involves reflection on the part of both people involved
    • Coaching is entered into for the promotion of growth and improvement
And finally, coaching is hard. But incredibly worthwhile. As I found out yesterday, it can take both of you on a journey you had no idea you were capable of taking. And that can only be a good thing.

Oh, and because I forgot to give you the usual funny video interlude to break up the excessive amounts of text, here are a couple on how not to do it. Enjoy...