Coaching is regarded as a self directed learning experience for the person being coached (the “coachee”) – what does it do to the coach? I have been an executive coach for over the last three years and have found that it could be fascinating journey into personal growth for a coach. Every session where I accompany the “coachee” into new areas for his exploration – also opens up new vistas for self-reflection and journey for me. However, I understand that it could be a double edged sword – I have to literally hold my “aha” moments many times so as not disrupt the coachee’s journey. This post is about my experience in self learning as a coach – what makes it so interesting and how I have used it.
Top three lessons as a coach
First, coaching taught me that people can perceive the same situation very differently. I came to coaching as a trained engineer and professional consultant –eager to find a whole world of new problems that have unique solutions. . Coaching just flipped it – it is people who saw the same problems differently. There could be different solutions for different individuals for the same issue. The coachee is unique. I learnt not to pre-judge and slot individuals into patterns & stereotypes – every session had to be approached with openness.
Second, coaching is a conversation involving four multiple levels and dimensions – thinking, feeling, doing and being. In my consulting world – the Socratic art of inquiry through questions led to new thought processes – there was reliance on primarily the brain. Coaching called for “presence” – the need for an interaction where I was required to be available to “dance in the moment” with my client. It called for a “connect” at each of the levels and as a coach I had to be attentive, spontaneous and curious all the time. I needed to “tune” in at each of the dimensions every moment. More importantly, often the same issue would be looked at very differently by head, heart, gut and spirit. I realized that I had to go far beyond my client’s thoughts & emotions if I was to actively listen as a coach. I learnt to reflect over my own experiences in order to get the right lens for the context. I also learnt to do so without loading my beliefs while egging the conversation to next level without being directive or suggestive. Each session left questions that I grappled with – What had I done differently from what the coachee had decided to do? Was it right for me to permit him to go the same way & face the likelihood of failure that I faced? I knew what was right – why did I not tell him so. It took a really long time and great deal of conscious effort to “un-learn” and approach each session with wisdom, credulity & openness – & I am still on it.
Third, coaching taught me the art of conversation – with not just one kind of people but folks from all backgrounds. Conversation to me was always about the topic and never about the person who was speaking to me. Even if I was curious, I would hesitate to find out more about the person I was speaking to. I used to hesitate n asking the “who” question – I was afraid that I would come across as being too direct, inquisitive and invasive. I learnt over time and with a fair amount of experimentation to give voice to my curiosity. It is how you ask the question and when you pose it that makes the client receive it in the right spirit. I realize that I had missed out on the basic fact that the client had come looking to share – I needed to be genuinely curious & authentic in asking him/her about himself /herself. It was not an attempt at collecting data points to prove or disprove a hypothesis – it had to be really reaching out with empathy. Experiencing vulnerabilities together – can open a new kind of relationship. I discovered that “who” question asked at the right point led to a lot of self-reflection on the part of the client – I had to learn how to participate with oneness and a lot of silence.
How I have used what I learnt
Reflecting on Co-Learning – with my coachee
As a coach – I have learnt to experience and enjoy my sessions. Today, they are less of the examinations that they used to be – where I was rated for performance and were duty bound to deliver “aha” moments. I came to coaching sessions to learn as much as my client did – this generated trust and intimacy effortlessly even when I was coaching people who were much younger or those who came from a different station in life.
During longer engagements –I have a special session set aside to exchange what we have learned about ourselves – we call it “co-learning reviews”. The ground rules are clear – we observe like the “fly on the wall” and abstract – without influencing each others’ actions. There is an “us” feeling in these sessions (as opposed coach versus coachee) & a free exchange – and invariably we shift to the next higher plane during the sessions that follow.
Positivity & Self Acceptance – for myself
As an individual – I have become more appreciative of the present and positive about the future. I have always been intensely competitive –and self critical inner voice carefully nurtured by cut-throat worlds in premier schools and corporate thereafter. I was initially scared that so much of self reflection is going to pull me back – but coaching by its definition is forward looking. The boat that my coachee was steering took us both forward. The niggling voice has become more accommodative, patient and constructive.
Better at Conversations
I have realized that conversations are about two people – involve both listening and speaking – & must have two stakeholders at the minimum. I have learnt to permit myself a bit of selfishness – in wanting to look forward to something for me in every conversation. This has made interactions more natural and authentic for me – leading to easy & interesting conversations.
I owe much of these thoughts to a seasoned coach who I met recently – & who posed a question that I am still wondering about – “Is there a difference between a coaching conversation and a friendly one?” That will be the topic of my next blog post.
About the Author – Amitabha Sinha is a credentialed coach and management consultant focused on business strategy, growth, transformation & governance. He has been working closely with board members, business owners and professional managers in their quest for excellence, on building capability for scale, growth & global reach. An engineer–MBA by education (IIT Kanpur & IIM Ahmedabad) he brings in over 35 years of corporate experience with global majors in leadership positions.