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Leadership development | How coaching leads to real change

Conversations about leadership, learning, coaching and change.

Room for reflection: How coaching leads to real change

Room for reflection: How coaching leads to real change

by Moyra Mackie on January 12, 2014

“In coaching the client learns and grows through reflecting on their own experiences and intuition via thought-provoking and insightful inquiry from the coach in a trusting and supportive environment.” 

~ Coaching Relationships: The Relational Coaching Field Book

In order to be consistently effective, it helps if coaches first go through the same process “reflecting on their own experiences and intuition”

And that is just what I have been doing for the last 12 months;  Year 1 of my MSc in Executive Coaching at Ashridge Business School, a program that aims to “develop your ability to respond to, initiate and enable change through the coaching process.”

In addition to attending a series of two-day experiential workshops, I have also been writing a 12,000 word personal reflection journal, answering a series of questions that require me to apply psychological models to specific coaching cases and to my coaching approach.

It’s not abstract, it’s highly personal

The assessors are not looking for evidence of someone who can understand and recite reams of academic theory and research, they want to see how deeply I can inquire into what makes my clients tick and how self-aware I am about my own patterns of behaviour.

Coaching is all about the relationship

Research shows that the most important factor in determining whether coaching is effective or not, is the quality of the relationship between coach and client.

And if this is the case, then it is vitally important that I understand what baggage I bring to the coaching room – what are my triggers, my drivers, my biases?

Effective coaches are always learning and reflecting

As Mary Beth O’Neill says in Coaching with Backbone and Heart:

“If you do not develop yourself enough to withstand a client’s stress, you default to actions that handle your own discomfort but are not useful to your client.”

Reflection is about change

I have spent most of the last six weeks wrestling with this development process in my journal writing.  With feedback from my tutor and from another experienced coach I have written and re-written my answers.  Each time attempting to be more honest and less defensive about my frailties and shortcomings, and more insightful and conscious of my strengths.

Reflection is uncomfortable yet illuminating

I wrote previously on how messy change is using the example of clearing out the attic. And that strikes me as a good metaphor for what it has felt like to examine my patterns of thinking and reacting.  Just like tidying the loft, I found some wonderful things that evoked warm memories and some pride but I also found things that I had buried in the bottom drawer and really did not want to take out and examine.

Reflection is about being vulnerable

The act of writing and reflecting deeply like this requires me to wrestle with vulnerability. As I say in the journal:

“As a writer I am aware of the self-editing process – the difference between what I think and what I commit to paper. It fascinates me to see the difference between reflection and disclosure.  The gap between my reflection and my disclosure will be about how trustful I feel and how prepared I am to take a risk.”

Which is also the question facing every client who enters a coaching room.

Being present WITH vs Applying coaching skills TO a client

The key is to focus on the client in the here and now – observing how they are when they begin to speak, what words they use, what body language they display.

The program at Ashridge expects coaches to consistently and consciously:

  • Pay full attention
  • Reflect back and paraphrase
  • Offer summaries
  • Ask open questions
  • Notice their own feelings and responses and self-disclose as appropriate
  • Notice language, pattern, metaphor
  • Offer feedback
  • Allow intuition to work on an unfolding story
  • Offer hypotheses
  • Suggest options/experiments/opinions

Looking for the “big why”

Instead of focussing overly much on past motivation or future actions, I try to stay with the client in the present: I might ask something like “Why now?  Why is this important to you now?”

The answer to that question is likely to begin a journey of reflection that leads to the root cause of what the client is really anxious about.  I’ve written before about how the role of the coach is to address the real needs of the client, not the surface concerns.

The reward for all this hard work – my studying, my reflection and my practice –  is this:

 “When you do the hard work of bringing your presence to the conversation and the client responds with openness, you break the ground for a strong partnership.” ~ Mary Beth O’Neill

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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