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Coaching encourages courageous conversations

Coaching encourages courageous conversations

by Moyra Mackie on May 10, 2014

What kind of coach do you aspire to be?

What kind of coach are you?

How can you close the gap between the ideal and the reality?


So began an exercise on the last day of my second workshop in year 2 of my Masters in Coaching program.

The tutors took advantage of a suddenly sunny break in the weather and suggested we worked in pairs whilst we walked around the grounds at Ashridge.

This is what I felt – and only half articulated – as my answer to those questions.

Companies are human

For me, organisations are not sets of reporting lines or processes or hierarchies, but groups of people who need to talk to each other.

The quality of those conversations will dictate how motivated, innovative, productive and profitable that organisation is.

“Organisations are interpersonal places and so necessarily arouse those more complex emotional constellations that shadow all interpersonal relations: love and hate, envy and gratitude, shame and guilt, contempt and pride…the emotional choreography each of us weaves, consciously or unconsciously” – David Armstrong, Emotions in Organisations

Trust is the key

I believe the secret to efficient organisations lies in reducing FEAR and increasing TRUST;  in improved leadership and open, constructive conversations.

My coaching is based on a humanistic approach.

That is,  I believe that people turn up to work wanting to do a good job.  I don’t believe many people get up in the morning and say to themselves: “I’m going to be a bad manager and a difficult colleague today”.

But I do acknowledge that many people consider that they work for a bad manager or with a difficult colleague.

I believe it is not the big stuff – the expensive restructurings – that make a real difference. It’s the small everyday decisions we make, recognition we give, passion we display, that lead to noticeable and lasting change.

There is a difference between knowing and doing

Organisational change is no different to personal change.  Take losing weight.  We all know that if we eat better and move around more the weight will shift. Yet some of us get stuck.

Similarly, for leaders and teams, they very often know what to do, but get stuck.

My tutor, Bill Critchley in Organisations Get Stuck Too wrote:  

 “Organisations are living organisms with conscious and unconscious processes…We think… that the place to concentrate our energies is often not on change itself but on the defence structures which are preventing change.”

The answer is emotional

For my clients the real a-ha moments have come when they have experienced a powerful emotional realisation in the coaching room.  When they have allowed themselves to connect with what is really holding them back.

This is usually anxiety and fear.

Fear is a powerful glue, keeping us firmly stuck in the old way of doing things

Leaders need to recognise these feelings and work through them in a safe place – which is what the coaching room is.  They need support as they make the truly courageous first steps out in an organisation that may be hostile to real, deep change.

Coaches are like personal trainers at a gym

Having regular contact with a coach in this phase can help leaders manage their anxieties and re-connect with the purpose of the change, to keep them on track and prevent them lapsing into old habits and patterns.

Whether I coach one person, a team or a whole division I don’t write expensive change proposals or re-draw the way an organisation looks.

Changing reporting lines, streamlining processes, shuffling the seats at the top table may make it easier for people to have open, constructive dialogue, but it won’t change the majority of communication habits.

It won’t help to build trust.  It won’t miraculously result in people giving open feedback to each other. It won’t make people more decisive or more creative.

The kind of coach I am is one that works with clients to focus on real change, not temporary disruption

The kind of coach I aspire to be is one who has more and more confidence to work with leaders in that emotional territory, to encourage the necessary courageous conversations that are truly transforming.

I know that that is not always what clients are expecting or what they arrive thinking they need.  And I feel the pressure to provide “models” and “frameworks” to compete with those swanky consultancies and their million dollar change processes.

But I believe very strongly that there’s not a management consultancy practice on the planet that understands clients’ businesses like they do. What clients need is a new perspective on the human connections that make or break the way the organisation performs.

The kind of coach I aspire to be is courageous

This week at Ashridge, I made a small step towards that goal.

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Moyra Mackie

Moyra Mackie

Moyra Mackie helps leaders and teams to work with courage, compassion and creativity. She is an executive coach and consultant and the founder of Mackie Consulting.

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