This four-part series on contemplating coaching practice by Amanda Ridings is inspired by her recent book, Weekly Leadership Contemplations. Part 1: Exploring self-leadership in our coaching practice
As a coach, I want to make a difference. My practice is to balance support and challenge in a way that gently stretches my clients to navigate adversity and discomfort with courage and integrity.
As a rookie coach, I more obviously wanted to help my clients, needing to prove myself and be seen to be contributing. When these factors combined with a strong orientation to problem-solving and fixing things, I could fall into trying to rescue clients from their struggles.
While I understood, cognitively, the drawbacks of rescuing, the impulse to ‘save’ was visceral and deep-rooted. Sometimes I didn’t even know I was doing it. I simply assumed (rather arrogantly) that I knew what would best serve the interests of others.
As a coach supervisor, I know that others succumb to similar reflexes. To become more skilful, we must notice such patterns and exercise self-leadership when they arise.
The journey with my tendency to help was already underway when, in 2010, I heard teachings from Lama Yeshe, the abbot at the Tibetan Buddhist Monastery, Samye Ling, in Scotland.
He looked at the human propensity for helping through the lens of whether actions alleviate suffering or add to it. When tempted to help others, he suggested we first establish whether help is wanted: have I been asked for help? If so, what am I being invited to contribute? He vividly outlined the need to assess whether we’re equipped to intervene: if we step into a rip-tide to save someone but cannot swim, we simply put two lives at risk. As the adage goes, we must secure our own oxygen mask first.
Lama Yeshe also observed that when our ministrations are ignored or rejected by someone we’re trying to assist, we may become annoyed, anxious or resentful. We’ve created our own misery by offering unwanted help, and made no difference to the recipient of our good intentions.
So, if we feel frustrated, disappointed or aggrieved by a client’s response to our work, we might ask whose need we’re meeting. Am I looking to feel good about myself or genuinely acting in the interests of my client? It’s important to be clear about our motivation in both heart and mind.
The abbot’s teachings landed on fertile ground – I’d already begun to examine my propensity to fix things and to recognise the longer-term benefits of a client finding their own response to an issue. I started to ‘let things be, mindfully’. Over time, with ongoing attention and discipline, I’ve become less likely to act on my impulse to rescue, and to exercise self-leadership in my practice.
However, if we let things be we must do it mindfully: we can add to suffering by not intervening. In a piece entitled ‘Sweet spot for support’ in my book, Weekly Leadership Contemplations (2020; see Review, p55),
I explore the delicate balance of sheltering and resourcing that supports another being to make their own way forward. The narrative is about a bat in a storm, but it could easily have been about a client! l
- What does self-leadership mean to you?
- How do you exercise it in your coaching practice?
- Amanda Ridings is a seasoned executive coach and coach supervisor based in the Cairngorms National Park. Weekly Leadership Contemplations (2020) is her second book. Her first, Pause for Breath (2011), focuses on leadership conversations.