This series from Clare Norman looks at unhelpful mindsets in coaching and examines more helpful ones.
Part 5: Mindsets we learned at work that we need to discard to be a more masterful coach
The working world has certain expectations of how we behave. Those expectations will have shaped the person we are today and how we show up as coaches, for good, bad or indifferent.
Through my field research, I have discovered 11 mindsets that we learned from work that we need to discard as we step into coaching. I’ll cover another three of them here.
- Old mindset: Work as quickly as you can
- New mindset: Get to what matters most, then slow down to explore
These days, work requires us to move at pace, to get as much done as we possibly can in the time we have. Greater productivity is the zenith: getting more done with less. The ‘Hurry Up’ driver, first named by Taibi Kahler (1975), plays a part here. As the name suggests, the people with this driver rush around, getting as much done as they can. They may eat, walk and talk fast. The Hurry Up-driven person is often lauded at work for getting a lot done. And it’s understandable that workplace cultures encourage this Hurry Up driver, as they want higher levels of productivity.
But in coaching we’re more about getting to what matters most as soon as we can, then exploring the territory. That exploration of the territory doesn’t necessarily need 90 minutes or two hours: the thinker can make huge shifts in 30 minutes of coaching – if we establish what matters most at the start of a session.
The aim of coaching is not to be productive, but to evoke awareness. Evoking awareness may lead to ideas, options and solutions, but understanding the underlying issue, root cause or belief is the progress that’s most needed first. This is why we need to slow down, once we know what it is we’re working on.
I was working with someone who wanted to work out his future next steps with regard to business development. We could have launched straight into tasks, but we realised together that it was his underlying beliefs and values that needed to drive his next steps, not the instructions of a marketing expert to do X, Y and Z that were incongruent with who he is.
- Old mindset: Don’t ask a question unless you know the answer
- New mindset: Ask questions that lead to new knowing
In a courtroom, a defendant’s lawyer will only ask questions to which they know the answers: they don’t want to be surprised or hear new thinking. Their preparation ahead of the trial means that they know exactly what questions they’ll ask, and exactly what answers will be given.
Coaches are not working in a courtroom. Your job is not to ask questions that get to known thinking, but to ask questions that lead to new knowing. I hear coaches asking questions that fill them in on information, such as: ‘Do you drive?’ ‘What are the facilities available at that gym?’
The thinker already knows the answers to these information-gathering and solution-offering questions. They don’t need to waste time going over this old ground. It’s as though the coach is gathering information in order to make a diagnosis and offer a cure, as a doctor might do. Or the coach is like a salesperson, who gathers information to match their product to those needs. Joining the dots when the thinker can do that for themselves, when they become aware of what those dots are.
Questions that lead to new knowing are more likely to go vertical underneath the surface rather than forwards horizontally. For example:
- ‘What is the meaning of [word that they used]?’
- ‘What’s the significance of [emotion they described]?’
- ‘Where do you feel that in your body?’
- ‘What does your beating heart have to tell you?’ (After they mentioned that their heart is beating fast.)
These types of questions keep the thinker focused on the present and what’s becoming apparent to them right here in this moment. They don’t go backwards over old ground, or forwards to a solution. They stick with the here and now to evoke new awareness. They’re client-centred rather than coach-centred. They’re of their moment. They’ll never be used again, as they’re only relevant at that time. And they are all about new thinking.
If you have the mindset of a lawyer, doctor or salesperson, it’s time to shift to that of a coach, whose job is to evoke new thinking by going vertically beneath the surface, not horizontally forwards. Forward momentum comes more swiftly later in the arc of the coaching, once the thinker understands themselves through new knowing.
- Old mindset: I am responsible for the outcome
- New mindset: I am responsible for the coaching process; the thinker is responsible for the outcome and their future
At work, you are responsible for the outcome of your work. You have goals and objectives, and are expected to make those a reality, with or without others. This is what you’re measured against: whether and how you hit your targets. But in coaching, the coach is responsible for the coaching process, not the results.
While you hold responsibility for the process, the thinker has responsibility for their own outcomes and future. This is a hard habit to break for some coaches, who hold too tightly to the idea that they must get the thinker to a resolution or action right there in the session. Yes, you want them to have made progress but any progress is good progress (Amabile & Kramer, 2011), even without a fully formed action plan. Action plans, solutions and tying up all the loose ends are corporate requirements. Progress, new thinking and new awareness are coaching requirements.
Let go of the outcome of the session. The thinker will get to wherever they get to and if there’s a gap between what they said they wanted and where they’ve got to, that’s OK. They can continue thinking about this after the coaching is over, if they choose to – that’s their decision and responsibility.
You’re simply the conduit for their thinking, the creator of a great thinking environment. You’re not responsible for driving to answers. In fact, driving the session leads to transactional results rather than transformation, as you’ll likely have worked at a superficial level.
By letting go, I promise you more will happen than you thought possible.
- Next issue: Mindsets we learnt from managers
- This article is based on an extract from The Transformational Coach: Free Your Thinking and Break Through to Coaching Mastery, published by Right Book Press. You can order your copy here: https://amzn.to/3zulBch
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sought out as a Master Mentor Coach by expert coaches and successful coach training companies, Clare Norman looks to continually sharpen individuals’ coaching edge and upskill mentor coaches so they deliver high quality feedback to their coaches-in-training: www.clarenormancoachingassociates.com
- T Kahler, ‘Drivers: The key to the process of scripts’, in Transactional Analysis, 5(3), 280-284, 1975
- T Amabile and S Kramer, The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work, Harvard Business Review Press, 2011