A Coaching Power Tool Created by Iulia Serban
(Leadership Coach, SWITZERLAND)
To manage our lives daily as well as to effectively cope in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) world, we need to be as clear as possible. In a lot of my interactions with clients and teams, I see a lot of people struggling with this ambiguity – as it creates a lot of insecurities, doubts, conflicts, questions with no answers, blaming others as well as a lack of accountability and a feeling of losing control. I believe coaching can help tremendously, by creating a dialogue with oneself, which leads to heightened levels of clarity and allows a client to feel that they take control of their lives and they take accountability for their path forward.
Ambiguity is defined by the Cambridge dictionary as the fact of something having more than one possible meaning and therefore possibly confusing; a situation or statement that is unclear because it can be understood in more than one way.
In a world that is characterized by continuous change and an increased level of complexity, there is a requirement for all of us to be able to handle increased levels of ambiguity.
In organizations, ‘managing ambiguity’ is a common feature of incompetency or skill frameworks.
Microsoft’s education competencies, “dealing with ambiguity” is defined as follows:
- Dealing with Ambiguity: Can effectively cope with change; can shift gears comfortably; can decide and act without having the total picture; can comfortably handle risk and uncertainty.
Korn Ferry Leadership Architect talks about:
- Manages Ambiguity – Operates effectively even when things are not certain or the way forward is not clear.
For individuals, who have a lower tolerance to ambiguity, this might lead to them feeling paralyzed overtaking any decisions on how to move forward. I find myself as well ruminating over it quite often – as my mind likes patterns and finding them; I sometimes also struggle when those connections or new patterns are not obvious. And it takes quite some energy to think through it, to reflect over what is happening to me and even more than that – what makes me feel uncomfortable – which most of the time is related to a perceived lack of control, not knowing or just the simple fact of not having a clear path forward.
In a coaching relationship, the ambiguity is present for both (1) the coach and (2) the client
- Ambiguity for the coach means entering each one of your sessions without knowing what will happen in there. This comes down to embracing the unknown and at the same time relying on what you know (your experience, your practice, your process) to ensure you can easily deal with anything that the client will bring in the session. At the same time, it requires also that the coach be always prepared to embrace that ambiguity at the moment and letting go of any desire of “knowing” ahead of time.
Embracing that ambiguity is in my perspective a state of presence for the coach, where the coach is deeply connected with the client and manages to be there without feeling any sense of ambiguity. That does not mean that the coach should not prepare for the session - but rather prepare from a mindset perspective and also being centered, to in fact be with their client fully. It is preparing to be in the “here and now” that will allow the coach to not feel that ambiguity as a burden, as this will allow the coach to be completely present with the client and focus their energy on what is possible.
- Ambiguity for the client means most of the time those fuzzy areas that the client needs to explore to be able to gain clarity and understanding. The deeper the topic, the more difficult it will be for the client to establish their goal in a very clear way. The bigger the stakes’ perception, the heavier the ambiguity can feel for the client.
Clarity is defined by the Cambridge dictionary: the ability to think clearly and not be confused.
In a world that is continuously changing, I wondered how clarity could be surfaced in different aspects of our lives, but also how clarity of goals, thoughts, actions, can help people achieve what they want to achieve.
In one of my team interventions, we got to a strong need from the team to “get more clarity”. So, in the process of a team dialogue, I wanted to ensure that the first clarity should be around “what clarity means for us as a group”. Below, are all of the various aspects that were raised by the team members:
- A shared common understanding of what it is and what is not
- Agility and flexibility to change
- Define expectations, deliverables, roles, timelines and success criteria for that moment in time
- Clarity of purpose and mechanism of action
- A path I can walk on for many miles, provided there are no landslides
- Clarity as a framework – not the actual definitions
- What is clear today, might not be clear tomorrow
- Achieving unity of vision, purpose & strategy
- Can be defined in simple terms: direction – others can repeat it back to you and provides the ability to act (what actions are needed)
- Is not an endpoint – in the process (execute, get feedback, refine it), an iterative process
One can easily notice that even within the group, we noticed there are various levels of desired clarity. This led the group to create a strategic framework (path forward) that would help bridge the gap and ensure that there is enough clarity for the ones that needed more, at the same time allowing for enough freedom and flexibility of multiple paths forward.
How could clarity support the coaching process?
- Purpose &Goal clarity: ensuring that the client knows where they are heading. Sometimes even the process of clarifying the goal produces heightened levels of clarity for the client, as it allows them to understand better how the goal of the session is connected with their overall purpose
- Making sense: of the world around us, of our lives, reframing perspectives, understanding better where others come from to navigate complexity and change easier
- Clarity on personal values & beliefs: the client can create through the coaching process the personal compass for taking decisions on how to move forward. Understanding deeply where one’s beliefs are coming from and being able to adapt them, especially when realizing that some might not serve the client in the best way anymore
- Clarity of actions and path forward: ensuring that the client is clear on how they want to proceed
Coaching techniques and associated questions to help create clarity:
Clarity of future path – through visualization:
is a very transformative way to create clarity for yourself. Visualization is powerful as it allows us to create a mental path towards a desired future. Accessing our internal guidance through visualization is essential to reconnect to ourselves, and to create the clarity we need to live a fulfilling life. Start with the idea of a possible future you could build for yourself.
- Imagine that you are in the future right now. Envision it in specific detail. What are you seeing? How are you feeling?
- Visualize your typical day in this new future. What will your surroundings be like? Your schedule? Your team? The work you are doing? What are you enjoying?
- Where would you like to be in three/ six months?
- How would you like to explore this dream and see if it is a real possibility?
- If you pursue this dream, what would your life look like in a month (or a year, 5 years)?
- What does it mean for you to reach this goal? What difference does it make for your life?
Self – Clarity:
who we are, what are we doing, why do we do the things the way we do them. This clarity leads to heightened levels of self-awareness:
- What is yours why? What are your core values?
- How do they look like in your daily life?
- How do you live them in your work?
- What is most important right now?
- What are you going to focus on?
- What will make the biggest impact on your core purpose?
- What are you choosing to commit to first?
- Where should you spend most of your time/ energy?
These questions should support the client to not doubt themselves, by finding the power from within and using that as a North Star for their actions. This would also allow the client to rely on themselves, rather than waiting for the support of others or even worse – blaming others for where they stand. This is around creating a sense of direction, which can act as a guiding light for the ambiguity of the situation in which one finds themselves. This could also allow the client to look at the ambiguity as a challenge, a puzzle to be solved, rather than perceiving it as impossible situations. From my experience, the moment when clients are gaining clarity, they tend to have a much more positive outlook, which also increases their capacity to make good decisions, to be more creative and innovative and that to create an upward positive spiral for themselves.
Clarity of language – discover the meaning behind the words:
Most of the time in our lives, we use words or talk about various things without thinking about what do they mean for us. Some of these aspects are critical to us having clarity: values, beliefs, assumptions, etc. Coaching has that power to allow us to take a step back and ask ourselves – what does this mean for me? Example of questions that a coach can use to support the client:
- Tell me more about that...
- What do you mean?
- What else?
- What part is not clear yet?
- What do you mean when you say?
Based on everything described in this power tool I realized that it is difficult to put a clear “OR” between the two opposing elements. The reality for most of the clients is that they will need to first make peace with the ambiguity to in fact gain clarity. The ambiguity will be there and cannot be controlled or completely “cleared”.
At the same time supporting the clients to gain some further clarity, especially on aspects that are in their control or influencing sphere, will allow them to take one step further towards achieving their desired outcomes. And that would allow the coaching relationship to provide the right benefits to the client.