Written by Michelle Ng
ARE WE STRANGERS TO COACHING?
If I recalled back, I realised our coaching journey started when we were toddlers. We received our coaching in taking our very first step, playing badminton at the front yard coached by our parents or siblings. Later in our teenage life, we encountered sport coaches, vocal, music and drama teachers that coached us in the respective areas. We are not strangers to coaching. In fact, coaching has accelerated our learning and supported many of us in attaining our skills and reached our best performances.
WHAT IS “AHA” MOMENT?
Recalling 10 years ago, I was undecided whether or not to move my base from Malaysia to China taking up a new assignment. On one hand, I was excited of charting new growth path, on the other feeling uncertain in uprooting my family especially the children from a stable environment to the unknown. My then 13 years old son, as unassuming as many teenagers asked me, “Mom, what’s so difficult, if you want it go for it. The question is what do you need to say YES?” That question had helped me made the decision. It was the same question I asked myself many times when preparing the family for the move and along the way when I encountered any hard decisions. I didn’t realize until 5 years later that was what we, coaches called the “AHA” moment and my son was my coach that day.
AM I A MENTOR OR A COACH?
As a team leader, I constantly asked myself this question. To me, it is a quite a big grey area between black and white. Based on the definition in the little booklet I was given during my coaching lessons, it says;
“Mentor is an expert in a special field with wisdom and experiences, and relies on giving advice and tips.”
“Coach is an expert in people and life / success dynamics and a strategist who can trigger the person to find their own solutions.
As a new coach, I was extremely technical and very steadfast in separating the two. One of my early coachee’s feedback was “Michelle, I am happy that you were able to help me set my goal clearly and charted a plan to move me ahead of my game. However, I came to you for support and guidance, I felt many times even when you could, you just won’t tell me exactly what I could do, it wasted a lot of our time!” It was a big blow to me. I was confused, deflated wondering what went wrong! I did exactly as I was trained as a coach and I was told I shouldn’t mixed-up with other roles especially mentoring, that was a definite NO NO! As a self-declared obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) person, I couldn’t let this go and felt compel to take action. I went back to him, retracing the coaching journey, seeking his feedback and realised I was too hung up to the technical part and forgot my purpose as a coach… to take a holistic approach (ie. if part of the strategy was to share my expertise, I should, with permission), to strategize, to give feedback and eventually to help the coachee reaches the goals at the his/her pace.
This feedback truly was a gift that elevated me to be a better coach. My learning was if being a coach means; on top of listening, observing, questioning, challenging, silencing, I need to at time be a mentor, a consultant, a trainer where my expertise is called for, I will not hesitate as long as the coachee is aware and agree to the switch of role. Eventually it is about helping the coachee reach the goal and ultimate potential.
ARE MY QUESTIONS POWERFUL?
As a young coach (in experience not in age of course!), I constantly second guessing myself during the coaching session, hesitating and resulted in lost of the “moment” and time. I had a folder that hold the list of powerful questions I gathered from my classes, my fellow coaches, google searching and without fail I carried it with me in every coaching session. In one of my session, I forgot the folder, I was panicking and was seriously considered postponing the session. My pride stopped me, and when the session was over, I realized I was better off without it. My mind was more focus, for once relying solely to listening to every word, paid attention to every move of my coachee. It was an enlightening moment where I finally got it – being a coach is not about asking the best questions, it is about asking the right questions! Without my folder, I was able to “flow” in the session and ask more relevance questions, picked up the body language and dived into the core of the subject at hand. My learning throughout the many coaching sessions / journeys as a coach, I owe it to my coachee to be “there” and be focus. My method is to include in my calendar 10-15 minutes quiet time before any coaching session to allow myself time to detach from all the chaos, noise around me, calmly gather my thoughts before entering into the session.
WHAT TYPE OF COACHING IS THIS?
When I first started coaching, I was constantly confused with the type of coaching. Is it life or business coaching? Is it career or life success coaching? Is it casual or professional coaching? Again, as a self-declared OCD, I couldn’t accept ambiguity and want to put everything into their rightfully boxes. I started to be selective focusing in my niche of solely business related, no life coaching.
How wrong I was!
Regardless the type of coaching, the coaching journey is almost always intertwin between business and personal. We could not address one without solving another. In many instances, I may started off with business coaching yet ended up with a pillar that was about family relationship while a career plan coaching shifted gear into managing father-son tussle. The list goes on. In my experience, many times, the casual coaching methods has supported the business coaching. Likewise, If I didn’t solve the personal topics, the business goals could never be achieved. Eventually, I realised, it doesn’t matter which niche or box we choose, coaching is a “log stock and barrel” package, I must be flexible, try my best to cover all bases and not be too concern about the technical aspect of it.
HOW CAN I ENSURE COACHING PRESENCE AND BE ‘IN THE ZONE’?
This is a tough one! It is my biggest challenge still and favourite topic to explore with my fellow coaches. To be in the zone, it encompasses all the coaching skills and more; listening, asking questions with head, heart and hand; acute observation of the tone, the body language; and drawing out every ounce of our focus as a coach. Despite practicing quiet time before any coaching session, deliberate in choosing the coaching venue, tip top pre-preparation paperwork and props, ensure self-awareness and professionalism to focus on the coachee and the issues, I find myself unable to fully ‘in the zone’ at times. Along the way I have developed techniques to help me overcome this challenge. By practicing these 3 techniques, it has increased my “in the zone” ratio;
- Listen with my heart.
Exercising listening to tone, the body language, the mannerism of coachee could tell a more holistic pictures beyond words. Through awareness and practice, I felt more confident, able to hear more intuitively and clearly. At time (critical moments) I even closed my eyes and focus only on the voice itself, the heart actually takes over and my mind eyes could see beyond the surface in turn raise my own self-awareness and ask the required “powerful” questions. Many occasions I was able to raise my coachees’ self-awareness and reframe their minds.
- Let’s not judge
I am a coach, not a judge! This is the statement I constantly remind myself not just as a coach also as a person. Each of us are unique in our own ways. You do it you way and I do it mine. There is no right or wrong (disclaimer: with exception of illegal activities), it is more of the choice of the person at the given time. Interestingly, my monkey mind remains deceiving and constantly slip to judge mode. In these moments of weakness, my trick is to pull my ear slightly (don’t laugh, it works for me!), and put myself back in place to non-judgemental mode.
- Be humble
To me, part of coaching presence is to know that, I do not know it all. Every coaching session is a learning journey and every coaching journey is a partnership between the coachee and me. It is a two-way street and learning on both sides. For that, I remind myself to keep my mind and heart open, and be humble.
At the same time, we must accept at time we are just not “tune in” and it is ok. The key is to acknowledge it. When I couldn’t concentrate, my telling sign was my questions would be off pace (some of my coachees could even recognise and call me out, love those direct feedback moments!). In such occasion, it is best to eat the humble pie, be real, come clean, cut short the session and sometime I would even replace the session at another time.
WHAT DID I DO WRONG?
There were times where I couldn’t help my coachee or the outcome is not satisfying either to the coachee or the sponsor. Those are what I called my “ball drop” moments. In the past 3 years of active coaching, I have a few of those. My most memorable one was one of my coachee suddenly left the job after four of the six sessions the sponsor had signed up. I felt responsible and I second guessed my coaching methods. Was I too hush? Did I take a wrong direction in my questioning? Was my strategy too aggressive? Why didn’t I see it coming? I blamed myself for the outcome of the unsuccessful coaching journey. It dented my confidence as a coach. During my feedback session, I was told that the issues were bigger than the coaching goal. The coaching just brought the issues to the surface where both sponsor and coachee could no longer swept under the carpet. Hence the unforeseen outcome.
It is important for us to understand every coaching journey is unique, it is a privilege to be entrusted to it. I concluded that one could not have 100% success rate and it is alright to have occasional “ball drop” as long as I have tried my best. On top of that, we must know our limit and recognising in some cases, it is beyond our expertise. We need to make a judgement call either sit it out or pass it along to the expert.
AM I READY?
This question brought smile to my face as it was “The” question I asked myself most evenings before bedtime throughout my very first certification way back when I was based in Shanghai. I reckon it was so uncomfortable for me to shift my behaviour / style from telling to asking questions (especially refrain from asking leading questions) and observing, listen attentively (extremely hard for a dynamic person like myself), from showing how to, to patiently sit back (instead of jumping in with solution) and allow the coachee to find the path.
It is not about skillset and more of mindset readiness for me at the time.
In one of my feedback sessions to my coach, I challenged “isn’t it a waste of time if you could show them instead of waiting for them to beat around the bushes and eventually tell you the wrong answers?” I am glad my coach was able to elevate my awareness and made me see one of the most critical coaching benefits – Sustainable learning. Coaching is about cutting deep into the core of the subject, bring it to the surface and dissect into bite sizes, address them one at a time. It is also about elevating the best out of an individual even when the individual doesn’t even know it yet.
Coaching is such a vast area, it involves behavioural science, psychology, attitude, discipline, emotion, neuro-linguistic, mind framing and many more. It is almost like a black hole… with so many uncharted waters. I believe if I wish to be successful in my journey as a coach, I must not stop learning new skills, explore the many areas of coaching and beyond. At the same time, I need to stay relevant to current times especially now during this pandemic where physical coaching is hard to do, hence learning new skills such as how to use digital tool to enhance coaching experiences, remote coaching methods to allow us to stay connected to our potential clients, our peers and the world in general.
As a coaching practitioner past 3 years, I still ask myself these 9 questions on regular basis. It centred and ground me as a coach. The questions reenergise me to stay relevant, stay refresh. I am and will always be a learning coach. Perhaps more questions will be added along my coaching journey in the future.