Learning from experience and client stories
Learning, and particularly learning from experience, seems to be one of the major components of the coaching conversation. Learning from experience implies an understanding of the language and content of the client’s story, with the coach helping the client to reconstruct their own reality by searching for meaning through dialogue.
There is so much power in the client’s language and the content of their stories. The significance of the client’s story comes from both the structure of their telling it, as well as the interpretation and significance given. In some cultures, for example in Latin America, Africa and India, oral history and storytelling remain very important methods of passing on ritual, tradition and customs. The coaching conversation can literally be seen as an extension of “telling one’s story” and looking for meaning and significance in the telling.
With this as a precedent, we can look at the “coaching conversation” not just as experiential learning, but as experiential education: learning from one’s own life experiences. These definitions suggest that learning is the key. This indicates that helping your clients grow, develop and become who they want to be, requires asking for their best thinking, rather than sharing yours. The four levels of coaching intervention with which we are working as coaches are interconnected:
- Doing: What tasks and goals need to be accomplished?
- Learning: How will you develop the competences needed?
- Way of Being: Who are you as you grow and develop; how do you do you? (Weiss, 2004).
- Transforming Self: Who are you stepping into becoming as you grow and develop? (Stout-Rostron, 2013).
In working with an individual client, there is no point in simply developing a leadership plan in isolation from the rest of the business and team processes. If the coaching intervention is to be successful, it is critical to develop a systemic, fully integrated coaching strategy that is in alignment with both the business and the talent strategies for the organization. Two key factors will be to identify the efficacy of internal and external coaching interventions at an individual level, and the use of group or team coaching to develop key leadership competences that are aligned with organizational strategy. Team coaching can also be a way to develop talent at subordinate levels.
Once you begin to work with an individual executive, their team often comes to the fore within a few months. Gaps are identified in terms of decision making, communication skills and facilitating meetings. Team coaching is becoming more affordable than individual executive coaching, and ensures that the team is working together in alignment with organizational values and goals.
Team coaching can help new leaders and their teams manage all aspects of transition, transformation and change. There is a strong link between business results and emotional intelligence or EQ (defined as self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and social skill). Team coaching will need to ensure that both the leader and members of the team improve their emotional intelligence skills, which will lead to better organizational performance. This will move the team to balance the needs of the individuals, the team and the organization. If the team members have grown in terms of self-awareness, the organization will want to see this “demonstrated” at work – in relationships, management competence, leadership behaviors and EQ.
But, in order to do so, the coach needs to have an in-depth understanding of organizational systems – seeing the coaching intervention from a systems perspective, and understanding the need for “structure” in the interaction between coach, individual client, team, and the organizational system. A danger of not understanding the “system” in which the client operates is that the coach risks becoming another part of that system.
As a business coach, whether working with individuals or teams, you are helping your clients to learn from and interpret their own experiences, and to understand the complexity of the environment in which they work. Team coaching is essentially about the results experienced through the relationship between the coach, the individuals in the team, and the resulting team dynamic.
Until we have reliable research from a wide variety of organizations, no one can guarantee that behavior change is truly sustainable as a result of coaching. However, based on research currently available, there are certainly guidelines for coaching which can help ensure that behavior change is indeed sustainable.
Stout-Rostron, S. (2014). Leadership Coaching for Results: Cutting-edge practices for coach and client, Randburg, South Africa: Knowres.
Weiss, P. (2004). The Three Levels of Coaching. San Francisco, CA: An Appropriate Response.
This article first appeared in the WABC Blog (22nd September 2014). Reprinted with permission of the Worldwide Association of Business Coaches. You warrant and covenant that you have the full authority to grant the rights and provide the warranties set out above. No part of the WABC Blog may be reproduced by you or a third party in any material form without written permission from WABC Coaches Inc. Please contact WABC if you wish to reproduce any of the WABC Blog material.