The Importance of “Who” in Coaching

“To finish the moment, to find the journey’s end in every step of the road, to live the greatest number of good hours, is wisdom.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thank you, Ralph Waldo Emerson, for reminding us that wisdom comes in the moments, the steps, and the hours! Maybe this is why coaching has become the way of those seeking thoughtfulness and wisdom. It makes a difference for all involved.

Coaching is a dynamic process that calls for individuals to look inwardly, as well as outwardly as they move toward their desired actions and results. It is a creative process where you, with an experienced and skilled thinking partner, a.k.a. coach, step into a space of openness and at times uncertainty in order to know more clearly about thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and actions. It is truly an enriching opportunity for growth and development. As leaders, we may be very strong on the outward component of this process (the “what” we want and are doing) while not yet where we desire to be on the inward component (the “who” we are).

I jokingly describe my earlier leadership style at times as somewhat like “a dog after a bone.” While it’s not a bad thing for a dog to be in search of a bone and to protect that bone once it’s found, it is also beneficial when the dog considers how the hunt will take place and with whom he might share the find. I was all about getting the results desired and yet along the way – I didn’t always take enough time, with a thinking partner, to deeply consider what I was learning about myself in the process. I needed a coach and didn’t yet realize that need.

Thank goodness, times have changed! Today, more and more leaders understand that thinking, including their own, is a critical component of any productive organization. There is no way to achieve the daunting goals expected of schools and school leaders today without taking the time to purposefully and thoughtfully think about best approaches aligned with clearly articulated values of who we are as individuals, as teams and as organizations.

As a flight attendant offers clean hot towels to refresh hands before a meal, the start of a new school year hands to each of us a fresh opportunity to consider “who” we are as we go about the “what” of our work. In so doing, we are deepening our own self-awareness, a necessity for any leader. And for a baseline on self-awareness, let’s use Tasha Eurich‘s definition from her highly engaging book, Insight: Why We Are Not as Self-Aware as We Think, and How Seeing Ourselves Clearly Helps Us Succeed at Work and in Life (2017). “Self-awareness is the will and the skill to understand yourself and how others see you,” says Eurich. This must be why coaches ask clients what they are learning about themselves as they consider best approaches to deal with challenges and opportunities coming their way on a daily basis.

This month, in all three of our social media articles, we will delve into practical ways for each of us to become more self-aware, which in turn will strengthen our “who”, both big and little, as described by an admired master level coach, Carly Anderson. Let’s begin.

Most likely you have identified a set of principles that guide the way you live your life, personally and professionally. Think about your top three to five principles. Here are some examples: honesty, patience, respect, positive influence, empathy, challenging status quo, excellence for all, growth and innovation, etc.

Now, think about the last conversation you had at work or at home that became heated. You know – where you and the other person had differing opinions and points of views about the subject at hand, and where emotions became elevated, as did your own heart rate. Next, consider some or all of the following questions that might come from your coach.

  • How do you best handle conversations that become heated?
  • As you look back at that particular conversation, what did you learn about yourself and the way you dealt with the conflict?
  • How did your behaviors align with your core principles?
  • What metaphor best expresses who you were in that conversation?
  • What metaphor best describes who you would have liked to have been in the conversation, if you’d like to have a do-over?
  • How will this conversation impact the way you deal with other high emotion conversations?
  • What question do you hope someone does not ask you related to that conversation?
  • If you were the other person in the conversation, how would you describe the whole situation?

It would be wishful thinking to say that you will never be in a heated conversation. Of course you will, unless you plan to live in isolation. The real question is, how do you want to “be” when you are dealing with this type of challenge? When we know how we want to be in those tough times, then we have a strong handle, somewhat like a straphanger on a fast moving tram, to hold on to during the conversation and a baseline to reflect on as we think back about the way we actually were. And, as we follow Emerson’s thoughts about wisdom, it’s helpful to consider what we learned from a particular conversation that will most benefit us as we carry on. After all, even when we didn’t handle a conversation as we had intended, there is always an opportunity to learn and prepare ourselves for the next one.

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Vicky Dearing, PCC, M. Ed.