When coaching is not enough

I recently had a very interesting conversation that made me reflect a lot on coaching: its usefulness, its limitations, and my recent development as a coach. 

 

I believe coaching and the special presence of a coach is a really powerful development tool. I really like the basic assumptions of the process, for instance, “the coach has the questions, the client has the answers” or “all people have the resources within them or can acquire them”. I love the idea that you’re accompanying someone on a journey of finding their own answers. 

 

But sometimes I think coaching is not enough. In addition to being a coach I’m also helping people with skill- and capability building through trainings and programs like Radical Collaboration. And this wider knowledge on various topics helps me realize more quickly when we are hitting a wall in a coaching conversation.

When you hit a wall

In the conversation I mentioned, we talked about the person’s leadership role and her current challenges in it. She and her team are working in an innovative field, they are in the phase of figuring things out, the team is changing a lot and her role is quite complex. We talked about her definition of leadership. Here I was already sensing that this might not get us too far in her challenges, but I still wanted to explore how she sees leadership and how this belief is helping or hindering her. 

 

So I tried an analogy. It is often much easier to explore a topic when you pull back from the original situation – it gives some distance and perspective. And just as I expected, it was very easy to spot her underlying assumptions about leadership and her role in the team. 

At this moment I stopped and asked her: Can I challenge you?

A different perspective

And I told her how I’d do it differently. Last year I took a course on innovative leadership which inspired me to have a completely different view on the role of a leader. I also added some ideas on exchanging roles of leadership and using her strengths. 

 

After my monologue she stopped for some minutes (while I was freaking out that ohh shit, I just slipped into advisory mode). Then she said that she loves it and this is exactly the kind of leader she wants to be. But this is something really different from what she had learned in her previous companies.

Was it coaching? Was it not coaching? Honestly I don’t care anymore. 

 

My commitment is to help the people I get to work with in the best way possible. This time sharing these insights seemed to be the most effective tool. She left the conversation excited about learning more about this new approach, planning her next activities aligned with it, and coming back to me with her reflections and learnings next week. 

 

I’m not sure we could have gotten here without me bringing in some new thoughts from outside her worldview. As an added bonus, we also had a lot of fun discussing these frustrating topics with analogies like being on a deserted island or organizing a walking tour in Lisbon. 

How to ask better questions

A couple of weeks ago I was going through my coaching notes as I was recording educational videos about coaching for one of my online programs. I found this idea: if you are an expert in a topic it means that you can ask better questions. It was reinforcing the idea that as coaches, we are not advisors. 

In recent years I didn’t take any specific coaching-related course or certification, but I was attending many other courses for my work as an organisational development consultant and trainer. I feel that learning about these topics significantly improved the effectiveness of my coaching as well. I learned to ask better questions not by reading coaching books or taking online courses, but by learning a lot about innovative leadership, new ways of working, and Radical Collaboration

 

I could see this in another recent conversation as well. I was helping someone prepare for a difficult conversation, a negotiation she was freaking out about. During our conversation I led her through an interest-based problem solving preparation process we use in Radical Collaboration, and also helped her brainstorm ideas about creating a collaborative, “green zone” environment (this is what we call a non-defensive atmosphere in Radical Collaboration) for the conversation. Knowing this methodology allowed me to systematically and effectively help her prepare by asking very targeted questions. And again she left excited and with a big sigh of relief that she knows what she wants and also how she will communicate it. 

 

The more I learn about leadership, inspiring organizations, and collaboration, the more I can support my coaching clients. Sometimes I think that I could be a better coach if I did more of it or focused on coaching exclusively. These experiences, however, empower me to more strongly believe in a core value I bring into my work that: doing many different things allows me to do all of them better. 

 

So if you are a practicing coach, I encourage you to look beyond coaching when you plan your professional development.

 

If you are a leader, founder, or entrepreneur and would like to try coaching with me, just send me a message and let’s start a conversation.

 

And if you are wondering about the substance of the conversation and the difference between traditional leadership practices and innovative leadership, come back soon because I’m going to get into more details about that in an upcoming post. You might also want to come over to my Instagram page to get notified when it’s published.