What’s hot and what’s not in coaching tools right now

This blog was written as the May guest blog for the Leadership Development Centre.

What’s hot

  • Making yourself a product in your own business − if you are in the communications business, try doing a communications plan for yourself.
  • Learning journeys − looking at a completely different industry to compare with your current industry.
  • Making coaching fun and interesting, walking coaching to stimulate the brain, creating ‘Mind Maps’ and collages during sessions, and using coaching cards to ask provocative questions.

What’s not

  • Sitting on your butt in a meeting room hoping your colleagues can’t see you while you talk to your coach about what is wrong in your life.

This blog looks at one tool that’s hot right now, and that’s the ‘Learning journey’.

Learning journey

I love a good learning journey. I think it stems from when I was a wee girl and accompanied my father to ‘Open Days’. He was an engineer, so anything mechanical or electrical took his fancy. He loved a good open day and we would go to one at least once a month. Mum would stay behind and have some ‘me time’. My Dad was eclectic in his love of gadgets and useful things, and sometimes it felt like we would go to the opening of an envelope if he thought it would stimulate my young mind.

On holiday, we would do all the weird tours, and that was before there was an industry around touring hidden aspects of a city. I remember back in 1979, on a school trip organised by Dad, where we climbed to the top of Mt Kaukau to visit the TV translator, which contained huge computers ensuring transmission of both TV channels for all of Wellington.

As a grown up, I retained this love of looking at something completely different and noticing the similarities and differences between any issue I was pondering on. This has also taken me professionally to a variety of unusual workplaces − down gold mines (very hot), car battery production plants (very dirty), and into the Urewera Ranges with a forestry gang (very hungry).

Adam Kahane, whom LDC brought to New Zealand back in 2008, specifically uses the concept of a learning journey (called Sensing Journeys) as part of the co-sensing phase of U-Process, as developed with Otto Shwarmer. I was lucky enough to participate in a Change Lab with Adam Kahane and consider how insights from the organic food providing industry can inform funding issues for community organisations (such as, trust, goodwill, and pay on time).

Inspiration can be found anywhere

Coaching practise greatly benefits from learning journeys, as the journeys help clients get perspectives on their goals and challenges. It also pre-frames for clients that inspiration can be found anywhere.

One of my favourite learning journey experiences was in a group coaching session in Auckland. The group was considering the issue of customer service, particularly working with difficult customers presenting complex issues. We undertook a small learning journey to the group next door − a cake decorating workshop. Here’s what we learned:

  • Tricky customers with complex issues are a little bit like icing because you need to keep them in the palm of your hand and you need to keep them warm. If you don’t, everything just crumbles away.
  • Tricky customers with complex issues are not like icing because, unlike icing, you can’t eat your mistakes!

After all that, our group went back with a renewed vigour around building closer and more warm relationships with clients. The cake decorating workshop returned to its previous air of Zen-like focus.

The learning journey tool in coaching

At the one-on-one level in coaching, the learning journey tool touches on all the other ‘What’s hot’ items listed above. It certainly is interesting for clients to consider a completely different industry and what it might have to offer in the way of insights. I often assign a learning journey as part of ‘home play’, which clients are asked to complete between coaching sessions. Often they can’t wait until our next session to tell me all about it, and instead I get excited emails full of their epiphanies.

The learning journey can also take the form of asking the coaching client to consider themselves as one of their own products. This dissociated perspective enables clients to apply their own expertise to themselves and builds confidence in their own tools. They know their own tools work on their products, so they know the tools will work on themselves.

Recently, I thought I was in a coaching session, but it turned out I was actually part of a strategic communications brainstorm to help a treasured client build their profile with internal stakeholders. It was hugely useful for the client, and the look of satisfaction on the client’s face just made my whole day.

When you can’t escape the office with your coach

What can coaches and clients do if coaching means you can’t escape the office, even to the local cafe? Well, your imagination can leave the building even if your body can’t.

Happily I discovered Professor Richard Wiseman’s book ’59 Seconds: Think a Little, change a Lot’ (2009), where he examines an experiment in which subjects who looked at colourful images scored better on creativity tests. He suggests that focusing on colourful images and noticing how they are like and not like the situation you are pondering will provide insights into the situation at hand. Hence my love of coaching cards.

What I have learned about being in business, I learned at my hairdressers

I still go on learning journeys for myself to keep my personal coaching practise fresh. Much of what I have learned about being in business, I learned at my hairdressers. I always wanted to wear a cape and every six weeks I do while sitting with goo on my head. You can go deep in ninety minutes at the salon as we chat about business, hair and life. My hairdresser taught me about helping clients keep appointments, so they get the changes they want − you don’t get lovely new hair by not turning up in time. Same with coaching − you don’t get a lovely new life if you don’t put your head under the metaphorical coaching tap.

Just recently, my hairdresser and I discussed coaching and hair trends, which was the inspiration for this blog. Just like fashion or hairstyles, coaching has trends. At the beginning of the year, it was all about goal setting and achieving personal and professional goals (hair version: hair repair after too much time swimming in the sea). (Interestingly, a counter-trend can be a trend if everyone feels it. In February, I was invited to present at Wellington NLP group on a tool for ‘Overcoming Overwhelm’, as many of our clients felt that this year had taken off like a rocket.)

In the colder autumn and winter months, it’s about resilience and conflict management tools (hair equivalent: going brunette for extra seriousness).

Spring equals coping with change and priority setting, as clients feel restless. Christmas is often about boundary setting as clients try for peace and harmony among their holiday plans, along with the overwhelm tools again, as everyone tries to jam in all their work and partying. (Interestingly, the hairdressing equivalent at this time is to go blonde in preparation for the beach so at least our hair can go on holiday even if we can’t.)

I close with a quote I often repeat to clients about the role of learning journeys in coaching.

“You can’t make footprints in the sands of time by sitting on your butt. And who wants to leave butt prints in the sands of time?” 

– Bob Mouwad, author

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