A Coaching Power Tool Created by Han Ee Lim
(Mindful Performance Coach, SINGAPORE)
The basis of a coaching conversation is typically that of want of something, or a desire for things to be different or better. There is the status quo and an impetus to change. Based on a survey by Korn Ferry conducted in 2015, most of the topics are either inter-personal or intra-personal for C-suite level leaders.
As the coachee works towards fixing or improving the current state of affairs, more often than not, it doesn’t work, it continues to be frustrating and disappointing. Hence a coaching conversation to see how best to address and resolve the issue. The experience is what we call grinding, as one strives and applies tremendous effort and energy to resolve the issue. Some coaches call this a burning platform that evokes a call to action.
The issue is that over time, we get accustomed to this constant, non-stop doing to fix things, to tie up loose ends, etc… We end up as human doers, not beings. We lose the ability to observe and be with silence or be with things as they are. The thirst for more and better puts on this endless hamster wheel which is a race to nowhere.
Why do we grind?
As they say, “pain is inevitable, but suffering/grinding is optional.” So why do we grind? I think for one, we do not fully accept the fact that change is constant. We seek permanence, especially when things are pleasurable, enjoyable, and fun. We avoid things that are frustrating, unpleasant, and difficult. But the other fact is that we cannot control what life throws at us. Life is non-permanent, it is volatile, unpredictable, and finicky. But because we refuse to release this desire to control, we end up grinding with the intent to make things better.
Coaching with managers, a common issue that arises in conflict with upper management. Their bosses are oblivious to what’s happening on the ground, they are not empathetic and only demand more for less. They are not humans. And the grind is really to see how they can essentially change their bosses. But the fact is that the boss is still their boss. But we refuse to acknowledge this and we grind towards a different outcome or experience.
This grind is also fuelled by our upbringing, our value system, or world views, and other dogma developed and ingrained over time. We are a result of the environment that we find ourselves. We develop an innate operating system (O.S) that fuels our behaviors, our mindsets, and how we relate to ourselves and the rest of the world. And when our OS conflicts, we unwittingly strive to make the world fit into our boxes. Imagine how that would work out.
What will support Flow?
So the key here is to bring awareness to the fact that there is an alternative to grinding, i.e. Flowing. Rolling with the punches, being at full potential, and engaging our entire senses and being. First of all, mindfulness practice is key here esp. the attitude of non-judgment, beginner’s mind, and acceptance.
In non-judging, we become impartial witnesses to what’s unfolding in the present moment and we simply observe the actuality of what’s happening.
In an expert’s mind, there are few possibilities, in a beginner’s mind, there are many. This is the ultimate form of innovation where we are conscious of the boundaries we set up for ourselves and we can mindfully choose to step beyond our comfort zone into the growth zone.
In acceptance, it’s about seeing things as they are, not what they should be. It’s like navigating a map, sure, you will need a destination, but to get there, you must first accept your starting point, where you are right now, not where you want to be. The problem is we end up fixating on the endpoint without knowing where we actually are and what it then takes to traverse the journey. A common issue that resurfaces is in the form of blind spots. The manager tells me, “It is the boss’s fault, they keep changing their transformation plans. We have no clue what’s happening, nor do they!” Well, what’s stopping the manager from asking and plugging in? What’s stopping the manager from taking the initiative?
Are we grinding to become better coaches? Learning new tools, techniques, what to say, what not to say, the list goes on. How about simply being with the coachee? Non-agenda except to be with and honoring a client-centered approach to having constructive dialogue and exploration.
How do we respond when we accidentally ask a “dumb” or even inappropriate question to the coachee?
Instead of crying over spilled milk and ruminating about what had happened, we can shift to a flow model and see if it’s possible to not relate so closely to all the self-judgment. Perhaps by taking a step back and seeing the bigger picture. We can explore and accept that perhaps there is indeed room for improvement and things we could have done better. But to feedforward and see how best to apply the lessons at the next session. Having a beginner’s mind would help to take on different views and takes on the situation. “What would my mentor say to me?” Without going into full self-critique mode, we take a step back, observe and flow into presence.
When we coach, this can also provide a tool to help shift the coachee into a more spacious and inviting place to see what it would be like to be truly authentic and present with themselves, versus being someone else. And more importantly, how can they honor and flow with their true intentions and values. Questions to possible explore in a coaching conversation:
- What’s possible when we stop judging?
- How’s this situation a problem for you?
- How’s our current way of thinking impacting our experience of the situation?
- What is within your sphere of control?
- What would a child’s advice be to you?
- What are we grinding against?
- What’s important to you right now and how can you honor that?
A tool is a device or an approach to help resolve stuckness or a problem. In coaching, there are times when we do indeed need a tool to help us resolve coaching issues. I hope this material invites a deeper exploration of our coaching styles and even consider what we are grinding against as coaches, and bringing acceptance to our present experience and stepping into a closer interaction to what’s unfolding right now versus chasing after an ideal coaching conversation that is depicted only in books.