Homework – a perennial coaching issue

All executive coaches have encountered clients who commit to doing follow up work but don’t complete it. As a colleague of mine said, “A coach should not accept this, without interrogating the situation. It’s essential to find out why.”

There are several possibilities and the simplest is that life got in the way. Working with adults means working with people who have competing priorities, and sometimes even the keenest client has priorities which can take precedence. It’s important to be accepting of this situation. Work with your client to ensure they are still committed to their follow-up work and help them establish a new timeline.

Another possibility is common to coaching, teaching and managing staff: misunderstanding. You need to check that you and your client actually shared an understanding of what was expected. If not, this issue sits squarely with you as the coach. Part of your job is to ensure that understanding is shared.

But what about when you and your client share a good understanding of the task, they have time to do it, but your client does not complete the work?  I decided to take a look at the approaches other executive coaches took when they encountered this situation. Underlying most of their approaches was ensuring that you, as coach, understand why your client has not followed through rather than making assumptions.

I recently found an excellent article by Tony Stoltzfus. Stoltzfus sets out five steps to take when this happens:

  1. Check for Buy-in
  2. Identify and Troubleshoot Obstacles
  3. Reset for Next Week
  4. Nail Things Down Tighter
  5. Reconnect with Their Motivation.
I didn’t sign up for homework …

Working with Bob* was an unusual experience. Bob approached coaching with great wariness, although he was always involved in each session. Although coaching was not mandatory for Bob, I thought he might have felt pushed into participating. It seemed unlikely that he was committed to the process. Repeatedly, Bob made a commitment to undertake follow-up actions, which he suggested for himself, and repeatedly he failed to follow through.

It seemed that Bob’s enthusiasm, which he brought to every session, waned the moment he walked out the door. Even when he tried to follow through, he always encountered impenetrable barriers. Bob was charming, courteous and warm but I came to realise that he was simply not ready for coaching. (See Matt Brubaker and Chris Mitchell for more on clients who aren’t ready for coaching, and our article on what makes a client coachable.)

When Annette* came to a session without having completed an action she had agreed to, I decided to use respectful listening techniques to discover what sat behind this. The first question I asked myself, referencing Stoltzfus’ article, was whether this was an action the client came up with, or one I had suggested. On reflection, I realised it had come from me. When Annette had asked for ideas about how to move forward on a particular issue, I had suggested a piece of homework for her to try.

It was clear at our next meeting that she had considered and rejected the action, so it was important to find out why. This led to a transformational conversation about her view of her organisation and her role in it.

Annette’s reaction led her to a realisation that this homework was based on a direction she no longer wanted to pursue. In rejecting the homework, she had come to recognise something she had not understood before.

The issue went way beyond the particular piece of work. It led her to reconsider her future directions both within and beyond the organisation. She set new follow-up actions which aligned with her new goals and which she completed with panache. As Stoltzfus writes, “Sometimes you’ll uncover an important obstacle, and find that dealing with that obstacle was much more transformational than the original action step itself.”

I believe the best approach is to be pre-emptive, wherever possible. One strategy I use when setting homework with my clients is to remind them that they can reframe or reject outright any suggestion I might have, before it becomes a follow-up action. So even when they ask for a suggestion, this does not mean they are obliged to accept it.

When a client expresses doubt about an action, I ask the questions that my own coach once asked me: “What’s standing in your way? What’s stopping you from trying this?” My clients’ answers range from, “Nothing. I’m going to try this out,” to “That would never work in my organisation.”

When I get the second answer, I ask them to talk to me about what’s going on. The answer can be far more revealing than any outcome from a single piece of homework and add great insights for you and for your client.

Contributor: Dr Catherine Burrows is a Sydney-based executive coach, available in Wollongong, Newcastle, Western NSW and other areas by arrangement. Catherine is a co-founder of Executive Coach Exchange and the CEO and owner of Innoverum independent consulting.

*Clients mentioned in this article are amalgams of actual clients and no actual names have been used.

A personal bill of rights

Our current featured member Grace Gedeon is an experienced and empathetic life coach, complementing her work as a business and executive coach.

Grace writes:

Executive Coach Exchange Grace Gedeon
Grace Gedeon, executive & life coach

In my coaching work, the acknowledgement of your personal and emotional rights is a foundational step in the process of reclaiming the self and building confidence, self esteem and self empowerment.

1. You have the right to ask for what you want. THE RIGHT To ASK for what you WANT. Break that down, you have the right to ask, you have the right to want. I used to feel selfish asking for what I wanted and at times I didn’t even know what I wanted, because I might ask and then some authority figure or more dominating person would say : really- you don’t really want THAT do you? You don’t really want to wear that or be with him. So after a while I stopped asking and I stopped trusting my own judgment about what I thought I wanted. I was baffled and disconnected from my desires. Sound familiar? Why bother asking eh? Well, it might be true that you may not always get what you want just because you asked for it – but that’s not the point, (after all people have a right to say no to you). The point is, that it’s important to know that you have the right to ask for what you want, independent of what the other person’s response is. Do you ask for what you want? Some people ask, even demand, without believing at a core level they have the RIGHT to ask. The degree to which you believe you have the right to ask will affect the answer you get. If you don’t believe you have a right, you may ask in a way that sabotages you. Work on knowing and embracing that right before you ask and your outcome is more likely to be favourable.

2. You have the right to say NO to requests or demands you can’t, or prefer not to, meet.
So you have the right to ask for what you want and you also have the right to say NO to what you don’t want. So how would it be if you couldn’t ask for what you wanted and you couldn’t say No to others? That’d be awful right? You’d be a doormat. Listen to each request that is made of you; listen to demands that are placed upon you- weigh them up, check your motives- when you respond- ask yourself am I responding from a place of “I don’t want to but I should or I will be disapproved of” or are you responding from” I do want to because it’s pleasurable or even if it’s not pleasurable, it’s difficult but serves the greater good AND I want the greater good”.

3. You have the right to be treated with respect. Respect is something we all crave but so many of us have gotten used to being talked down to, criticised, dismissed , argued with, shamed or ignored. We want respect but don’t realise that we have the right to be treated with respect. Employers, parents, teachers, coaches, partners, dominating people have conditioned us to think they have a right to treat us poorly until we earn their respect. On the contrary, being treated with respect is a human right. Perhaps we may need to earn respect for a particular endeavour or skill but we need to do nothing to earn respect for our essence. It’s our right and the right of others to be treated with respect as humans just for being sentient beings and part of the circle of life. There is never justification for abusive behaviour.

4. You have the right to express your thoughts and feelings.
How often were we shamed or cut down for expressing our thoughts or feelings? “Don’t be stupid, that’s silly; what an absurd idea! Don’t cry; don’t you get angry with me; what are you sad for?” It appears to be part of day to day communication to shut down people’s thoughts and feelings as a way of winning an argument. Yet that’s a real block to healthy communication, self esteem and building connections. Everyone has a right to their thoughts and a right to their feelings . Everyone has the right to self expression. Self expression is the birth place of creativity . This is what makes you unique – your thoughts and feelings are rich and valuable, they have a right to be expressed.The only caveat is that you note the impact your words have on others and as a self aware human being, be thoughtful. You don’t need to be shut down or censored you just need to be respectful and authentically communicate your thoughts and feelings.

5. You have the right to be seen and heard. There used to be an expression – children should be seen and not heard. Lots of children in my generation were raised that way. That was all about polite children but what it did to some children was make them feel invisible and insignificant in adult company. Many of those children grew up to continue to believe that they need to remain invisible and cause minimum disturbance and so they negated their own contribution in social settings. Your right to be seen and heard is so important, especially for people who have a deep longing for recognition and don’t know why they’re always overlooked. This right is vital to allow yourself to shine for your unique self and to claim your presence and offer your contribution. This right says YOU MATTER.

6. You have the right to trust yourself. Self trust is so vital to self esteem, yet so many of us second guess ourselves, we have committees of people we seek approval from before we make our decisions. We’re riddled with self doubt. Past mistakes have led us to believe that we can never be trusted. We get told that we have terrible judgment or terrible taste. The truth is that it’s usually our self doubt that ended up making the poor decisions in those situations,but if we had sat still and developed our connection with our intuition and truly listened to ourselves we would have mostly been right, and if we’d made a mistake, we would have learnt from it anyway. We don’t always have to be right. We also have a right to make mistakes. We just need to trust that we can guide ourselves to seek support or wise counsel when necessary or to take action based on our own view, even if everyone else goes against us. We have a right to champion our own cause and learn from our mistakes.

7. You have the right to change your mind. You’re not trapped. You’re not perfect, you’re human. If you go down a path and find out it’s not the right path- you have the right to change your mind. It’s your mind, no one else’s. Your consciousness drives it. As your consciousness evolves, so do your preferences. Weigh up the pros and cons; assess the situation carefully and diligently, then if you change your mind about the situation, find a way to change the situation – if that means selling that house; leaving that relationship; resigning from that job: it doesn’t automatically make you a loser or a quitter. Don’t let fear, shame or disapproval stop you. You have a right to create your best life and this may involve repeated changes of your mind. Please note your impact on others and remember the spiritual truth that the universe does not build your happiness on someone else’s misery. If your truth is that your situation needs changing and you make that change consciously and in good conscience then that change will be for the greater good of all.

Contributor:  Grace Gedeon is an international life coach, business coach and executive coach.  You can find more posts from Grace at www.gracegedeon.com and her radio show at News for the Soul.

Effective communication & conflict resolution

Grace Gedeon is an expert in the area of effective communication. Her work in the area of business coaching and leadership coaching, where she brings her experience as a lawyer and psychologist to bear, as well as her warm and genuine personality, has led her to the insights in this week’s post.

Grace Gideon, Executive Coach
Grace Gedeon, executive coach

Effective communication

Effective communication is about making your position clear while allowing others to feel respected and valued. One effective communication technique is to paraphrase the person with whom you are speaking in order to: a) make it clear that you are listening, and b) confirm that what you think you are hearing is what they intended. Listening with an open mind and an open heart is profoundly helpful when it comes to removing all judgment and projection, and establishing better and more respectful business relationships.

Conflict resolution

Full-blown battles waste time and energy, damage your good reputation, and decrease your motivation. Conflict resolution techniques, like effective communication and negotiation skills, can help you overcome these obstacles and maybe even make new allies.

Anger management

Anger management is about being able to lose a battle to win the war. It’s also about ensuring you don’t let your temper stand in the way of achieving the best business outcome. Certainly, anger has its uses. For instance, it can motivate you into action. Take note, hot energy motivates, cool energy mediates. Anger management helps you use your healthy anger to fuel appropriate action and once in action, you can learn how to stay cool, clam and collected in order to negotiate and mediate the best outcome for any given situation.

If you have a problem with anger management, talk to me. Together, we can identify your triggers and help you to develop more positive ways to react to perceived threats. This will ensure your business and career can go from strength to strength.

Stress management

Stress management isn’t always easy. The pressures of work can be a tremendous burden. With the right business coaching or executive coaching, you can learn the keys to stress management: self-awareness, self-care, establishing priorities, identifying the source of stress (environmental or emotional), managing your time effectively and, the best stress management technique of all, finding stress relief through love and gratitude in their many varied forms and languages.

Contributor: Our current featured member, Grace Gedeon, is a life coach and executive coach who blends her business and psychology experience to create her unique capacity to intuitively and clinically diagnose the psychological factors that stand in the way of your success and fulfillment. Grace teaches effective techniques to help you transform your career in a deep and long lasting way.

How executive coaching can benefit employees

Executive coaching can assist individuals in the performance of their current role, in identifying and pursuing their career aspirations and can assist them to improve their professional relationships.

Trish Kelly executive coach
Trish Kelly, executive coach

For executive coaching to be successful there are some essential foundational elements from the individual’s perspective that need to be in place. The first is that the individual needs to be open to taking part in the coaching experience to learn and grow. Another essential aspect is that there needs to be the right “chemistry” between coach and coachee.  In other words the coachee needs to feel comfortable enough with their coach to be able to open up and discuss and pursue their issues and goals in a frank and honest way.

The following case study shows how coaching assisted an individual to navigate issues they were dealing with in their role.

Peter* was unhappy in his role and felt unsupported by his supervisor.

During the coaching sessions, Peter was able to unpack the situation. He began to more clearly articulate the different issues that were occurring and intersecting to make him feel unhappy and unsupported. This included some critical self-reflection and a new awareness and deeper understanding of how his own workplace communication and attitude was perceived by his supervisor. He realised this was a significant contributor to the situation.

As a result of focussed self-reflection, Peter was able to explore different options for addressing each of the issues he had identified and, most importantly, develop and prioritise an action plan to move forward with these options, including how he would modify his communication and interpersonal style with his supervisor.

Over a 6 month period, Peter progressively put his action plan in place. At each coaching session, he was able to reflect on the effectiveness of these strategies as he tried them our and openly discuss those that had worked and, equally, reflect on any that had not been as effective as hoped. In this way, he was able to keep moving forward with his plan.

In this particular situation, at the end of the 6 month period, Peter had a much more open and positive relationship with his supervisor and, as a result, had been able to develop and agree on a work plan and professional development plan for the next 12 months that provided clear direct and accountability and opportunities for further growth and development. This is turn led him to being happier in his role.

One of the key reasons for the success of this coaching assignment was Peter’s willingness to openly participate in the coaching process and to identify issues and develop solutions he owned and felt comfortable implementing.

Contributor: Our current featured member, Trish Kelly, is an experienced leader, change manager and facilitator with over 30 years’ experience in the public sector, working in very large organisations in both regional and central office roles.

Through her experience as the General Manager Human Resources for 8 years in the NSW Department of Education and Communities, the largest organisation in the southern hemisphere, Trish is well equipped to work with executives, aspiring leaders and others to support and guide them to achieve their goals and to maximise their performance and impact.

* ‘Peter’ is a blend of several clients.

Getting the most from your executive coach

In a recent post, we wrote about choosing the right coach and preparing for your sessions. In this week’s post, we look at ways you can put in the effort and maximise the outcomes from your coaching experience.

Your organisation has decided to invest in you by engaging an executive coach. Or you’ve decided to invest in yourself. Either way executive coaching is a significant investment in time and money, so you want to make the most of this experience.

Executive Coach Exchange hurdle pixabay domeckopol
Putting the effort into your coaching sessions can help you clear career hurdles

Stephen Key has written about coaching as a two-way street and suggests 11 steps to take to get the most from this experience. Amongst these are some we believe are critical to your success:

  • Get in the habit of recapping what you’ve learned via action steps. What are you going to do next? Document what you are planning to do and share this with your coach.
  • Make the focus of your course a top priority. Actively work toward accomplishing assigned tasks each week. Look for ways to get the work done, not for excuses as to why you couldn’t.
  • Listen with the intent to take action. Focus on action steps at all times. There’s a big difference between passively taking something in and actively noting what needs to be done. All the instruction in the world won’t help if it falls on deaf ears.
  • Do the work. Better yet, return asking for more.
  • Be patient. Nothing happens overnight. Accept that it might take longer than you want.

Joyce E.A. Russell from the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business advises that for executives to get the most out of the coaching they should:

  • Periodically provide feedback to their coach about what is working or not in their sessions.
  • Remain open to the feedback they get in return. She writes, “You may hear things that you never heard before. Instead of immediately denying and rejecting the feedback, ask questions to better understand it.”
  • Make sure the coach works with their client on crafting a developmental plan. “At a minimum, this should outline your key strengths, developmental areas for improvement, obstacles to changing, and action plans along with timetables.”

Jeannette Purcell suggests you should “Be clear about what you want to change. The more specific you can be about your coaching ‘goal’ the more effective your coaching will be.”

She then writes about the importance of preparation. “Prepare for each session by reviewing what has happened since you last met your coach. What has gone well? What has not worked well? Has a specific issue arisen that you would like to discuss with your coach…?”

Next, she points out the importance of follow-up. “Make sure that each session ends with a summary of what has been discussed and what actions you are going to take…Agreed actions allow you to put into practice some of the good ideas or options you have discussed at the session.”

Finally, she points out the importance of being open to the experience: “Be prepared to challenge yourself and your ways of working. Be open to new ideas and to trying new things. Coaching provides you with a safe environment in which to be honest and open about what is happening at work and what needs to change. If you are not completely open you will not realise the full benefit of coaching – it will be a missed opportunity.”

To sum up, at Executive Coach Exchange we believe you will get out what you put in to your coaching experience. Invest in yourself and have faith in your ability to make positive changes. Coaching can be a very challenging experience but by making the effort in preparing, doing the work, taking action and being open to new ideas, you will have a rewarding experience with long-lasting benefits and exponential personal and professional growth.

Taming a toxic workplace

Executive Coach Exchange tiger gailrubin pixabayHere is a very useful and sensible article by Kate L. Harrison, referencing Anna Conrad’s work on ways to operate better in a toxic workplace environment. Ms Conrad has six suggestions.

  •  The first is to look inwards, to see whether you are yourself contributing to the situation.
  • The second is to separate the things you objectively know to be true from those you only believe to be the case.
  • The third is not to add to the toxicity by venting.
  • The fourth is to “remember it’s just a job”: Ms Conrad suggests people “Focus on the fun stuff and work and (not) …get too invested in the interpersonal dynamics.”
  • The fifth is to be an anthropologist and observe the situation, which will allow you to “step back from negativity.”
  • Finally, she recommends people learn from the experience.  Ms Conrad suggests a post mortem at the end of the week – brainstorm on what worked, what didn’t work, how to improve – and not who is at fault.

Ms Conrad makes the important distinction between being harassed, discriminated against or bullied, when she says people should seek help, for example from a senior manager or a lawyer, and what she calls “run-of-the-mill pettiness”. In the latter case, she feels a change of mindset can change how you react to the situation and improve your life at work.

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