This afternoon, I joined the first of four webinars where Hetty Einzig speaks on the future of coaching.
Some of the ideas expressed were music to my ears.
The primary point, from which all else flows, is that the environment in which coaches practice now is not the same as it was forty years ago. Sports-based coaching models such as T-GROW still have much to offer, but they can no longer be our end game.
Although the implementation of change remains the primary purpose of coaching, it must be accomplished on a whole new level. No longer is it enough to pander to a client’s desires for increased personal performance. As coaches, we must accept that we now have a deeper and wider social responsibility than just catering to a single individual or organisation.
While it is true that the world has always been chaotic and confusing, it is even more so today not the least because technology reinforces this 24/7. If I’m sitting in New York during a terroist attack in Paris, I can experience Paris in real time from the mobile phone footage and the concurrent tweets of others. The resulting increased levels of stress and anxiety from this sense that no place is safe, ignites the need to control my environment.
If unchecked, such an intense focus on control leads to unsustainable levels of increased reporting requirements, accountability, security checks, validations, and authoritarianism. Feelings of lack of control and the unarticulated fear stemming from it, leads to increasingly divisive thinking – we are good and you are bad and so let’s build that wall ASAP!?
Yet this is not our reality. As technology makes our world smaller and smaller, we become more and more (not less) connected with each other. Although we like to believe ourselves to be throughly independent, we are not and can not be. That old adage that no man is an island has never been more true.
The great thing about coaching is that many of our clients are themselves in positions of tremendous power; movers and shakers, the initiators of change at every level. Instead of standing by the side lines and coaching these powerful men and women on how to become even more powerful, why don’t we partner up with them so as to better a more encompassing, ultimately more important, global game?
All very well and good, you say, and of course you’re right. Lofty ideals such as were expressed today are for the most part, well… lofty. However, I’m willing to give Hetty the benefit of the doubt at least through the next three webinars.
Stay tuned – more later.
Overall – this is looking very positive – with some problems to be overcome (to be expected) but a favourable final outcome.
I would expect a publisher to come after my novel in about 9 months and that makes sense given that JB’s course finishes end in May 2018.
Interestingly, if it is true that publication is usually about 12 months after signing a publishing contract, this bit of good luck for me has already been predicted. Several years ago, Bernadette Brady used some great techniques suggesting that 2019 would be my year for publishing a novel. How neat is that?
- I am the querent and so with Libra rising, Venus (ruler of Libra) symbolises me. Venus in this chart is at 27 Virgo where technically, she ought not to be happy (she’s in fall). But my natal Venus is in Virgo and so I consider this a good omen – not only that, but with all the work ahead to get this novel up and running again – the highly detailed and sceptical nature of Virgo ought to serve me well.
- My novel is best ruled by the 3rd house and because Sagittarius is on the cusp, it is symbolised by Jupiter at 0 Scorpio. This suggests that my novel is neither in very good nor very bad shape. Because Jupiter is in sect (in same hemisphere as the Sun), the Liber Hermetis predicts that my novel will be ‘honoured by magnates and kings’ and be ‘worthy of believing’. Unfortunately, however, because Jupiter (my novel) is in the terms of Mars, there will be trouble with the ‘make a million’ concept. Bestseller? Probably not.
- Because the 9th house is traditionally associated with publishing, then with Gemini on the 9th house cusp, potential publishers will be symbolised by Mercury, the ruler of Gemini.
- In order for my novel (Jupiter) to be published, both it (Jupiter) and the publisher (Mercury) must come together in a harmonious aspect. In this case, they are doing just that because Mercury (the faster planet) is applying to Jupiter for a conjunction. Mercury is 9 degrees away and this is in range (moiety) for these two planets. That Mercury must change sign prior to making the conjunction with Jupiter does not change the result although I like to think of this as symbolising that my novel will be very different after working with JB on the course for 6 months. That 9 degrees should translate roughly into 9 months which makes sense under the circumstances.
- Of interest, is that Mercury at 21 Libra is in the same ‘degree’ as the lunar nodes (21 Aquarius/Leo). According to tradition, this signifies that the publisher in this instance is about to be involved in a ‘fateful’ event in regards to this horary question. This may or may not be unfortunate. But because Mercury is ‘combust’ (too close to the Sun), there is some suggestion that publisher may be ‘burned’ in some way.
- Mercury is in the terms of Venus suggesting that a female publisher/agent might be best for my novel.
- Finally, because the Moon is the overall symbol of how events as a whole will play out (past, present, future), we watch her movements with great interest:
- Last aspect made by the Moon in this chart prior to asking the question was a trine with Jupiter which is good for new ventures and dealing with influential people. Looks like I was lucky to have been ‘chosen’ for this course?
- Next aspect to be made will be a square with the Sun and it is NOT good for new undertakings and dealing with influential people. Hope I’ve made the right decision?
- Next aspect made is a square with Mercury which is GOOD for study and sending messages as well as buying/selling with influential people. Sounding better.
- Next aspect will be a sextile with Mars which is good for winning contests and arguments. All contracts require some haggling.
- Final aspect is a sextile to Venus which is good for ‘marriage’ (i.e. partnership with a publisher) and financial matters in general.
Yet another interesting coaching model uses the Psychodynamic Approach, the stated purpose of which is to expand the client’s capacity for emotional regulation.
Baseline is that the client already regulates his emotional response when confronted with people and/or situations. Unfortunately, however, he usually has little or no consciousness about what is happening much less why. This should come as no surprise. Haven’t we all ever met someone who seemed to know more about which ‘buttons’ we have that they could push that did we?
The key to this coaching model is to create a safe space (‘holding environment’) in which the client tells his stories. He’s not so much looking to rewrite his story as he is to get a visceral experience of it.
Consider little Johnnie, our young lad from the prior two posts. He’s the one who is no longer ‘good’ because he can’t ‘study hard’ and as the result has problems at his job. His employer believes that Johnnie provokes fights with his superiors in order to cover up his feelings of inadequacy and unless he stops this, he’ll be out on his ear. Johnnie has been made aware of these concerns through HR and of course, as his coach, so have I.
I invite Johnnie to cast his mind back and consider whether his current situation resonates with something from his past. Not surprisingly, Johnnie starts talking about the technocrat at his university who, for no good reason, decided to cut his funding. As Johnnie’s coach, I must aim to operate on two levels – both participating in our ‘mutual exploration’ of Johnnie’s story as well purposefully fuelling his emotional reactions by subtly role-playing the part of that callous technocrat.
No surprise when Johnnie (unconsciously) picks up on this and ramps up his rage at me (transference). At the same time (countertransference), I play back to Johnnie that however hard he tries to pick a fight with me, I won’t respond just like that technocrat failed to respond years ago. Somewhere in this (frankly uncomfortable) process, Johnnie finally twigs – i.e. that he picks fights with others out of his feelings of inadequacy and he usually picks fights with those who refuse to fight back. If all goes well, he can now consciously change a previously unconscious behaviour pattern that was about to cost him his job.
The good point about this model is that it opens the client’s mind to the possibility that there is more going on in any situation than he might have appreciated. The downside is that this feels more like counselling than coaching at least in the sense that as a coach, I am digging around in my client’s unconscious and with a stated purpose or goal. The reality is that in every coaching session there is an element transference and countertransference (and plumbing of the unconscious) so as a good coach, I had best get prepared for it.
Another coaching model of interest is Existential Coaching – which, like all coaching paradigms, seeks to facilitate positive change. If (1) the popular sports-based models (T-GROW) focus on increased performance and (2) narrative coaching focuses on crafting a new client story, then (3) Existential Coaching beats a unique path in between.
According to Ernesto Spinelli, the purpose of Existential Coaching is to help people to live more effectively. This is achieved by gaining clarity and renewed purpose. Obviously this may well lead to increased performance too – a bonus, if you will. Likewise, to be successful, it will necessitate crafting a new story, one in line with (newly discovered) highly personal values and beliefs.
Now, I’m not going to argue that these three coaching models do not overlap. But I will argue that their focus and approach are very different. Their philosophical underpinnings are different as well. For example, T-GROW works on the assumption that we are all wholly rational creatures who, with effort, can control the disparate parts of ourselves.
By contrast, Existential Coaching works on the assumption that there are so many varied (unconscious) ‘things’ going on inside us that complete conscious control is never possible. As there result, T-GROW focuses on problem-solving while Existential Coaching has no choice but to embrace problems. For T-GROW, anxiety is a hindrance to performance and must be reduced/eliminated. But for existentialists, anxiety is something to be savoured = i.e. a manifestation of the existential truth that life is not perfect and neither are (nor ever will be) you.
Do you recall little Johnnie in my post about Narrative Coaching? The young man who was no longer good because he couldn’t study hard? How might these three coaching models work in his situation?
- T-GROW – might help little Johnnie to put in place a plan to study hard again – taking as a given this is requires enhancement for no other reason than because he says so. If successful, T-GROW gets him back up and running on par with a cultural norm.
- Narrative Coaching – might help Little Johnnie to reframe his story so that, for example, he might still be good even if unable to study hard. Quite what he does with this, remains up to him. Just as with any good novel, several different endings are possible and now Johnnie needs to pick one.
- Existential Coaching – might help little Johnnie to understand that good = studying hard is a culturally imposed standard and this is how others will judge him, full-stop. However, this does not mean that he has to define himself this way. Indeed, he ought not to do that if it does not align with his personal values and beliefs. He should also keep in mind that although he might once have bought 100% into good = studying hard, he no longer has to do. Everything in life changes and this includes his values and beliefs.
Clearly T-GROW will get the fastest results and they will measureable too; especially good if Johnnie’s (new or old) employer is paying the bill. But although the result is culturally acceptable, it may not be personally appropriate and, in the long run, may not improve Johnnie’s life. Narrative coaching opens up possibilities for Johnnie in the sense that at least he now understands why he believes good = studying hard. But unless his new story is the result of some serious soul-searching, it will likely remain culturally determined without him even realising this is the case. In my view, Existential Coaching provides the best all-around solution but, to be honest, it might take a long time and let face it, the amount of ‘navel-gazing’ required may not be for everyone.
The moral of this seems to be, as I mentioned in my earlier post, that when it comes to coaching models, one size does not fit all.
When it comes to coaching models, it is certainly not the case that one size fits all.
So far, the one that I like most is called Narrative Coaching. It’s described as a ‘mindful, experiential and holistic approach’ to shift my client’s stories thereby generating new options for desired change.
The idea is that stories are not only central to life but they are essential to our sense of ‘self’. Indeed, if you’re inclined to the post-modern viewpoint, we are literally narrated into existence. For example, when little Johnnie hears his parents and teachers tell him he’s a good boy when he studies hard, he might well form a narrative or story about himself that he’s good only when he studies hard.
Not only that, but little Johnnie must also make sense of recurring cultural themes or motifs like the hero’s journey (this is classic Star Wars stuff). Johnnie becomes the ‘hero’ of his story when he accepts his own ‘call to adventure’ and leaves his known world behind to face the challenges of the unknown. Perhaps little Johnnie considers his adventure of going off to University in this way? If so, then all is on track until he somehow gets derailed. Maybe his mother dies or girlfriend dumps him? Maybe his student funding falls through? Maybe he parties too much? Doesn’t really matter. The point is that because of some challenge or temptation he fails to conquer, Johnnie is not able to study hard anymore. This in turn leads to him dropping out of university and taking a job he doesn’t like. It isn’t long before both he and others interpret this as arising because in his hero’s journey, Johnnie failed to complete the socially acceptable story arc. When Johnnie leaves (or is pushed from) that job he doesn’t like, he’s not sure what to do next. Worse, he’s not entirely clear why he ended up in this situation. Yet somewhere in the back of his head, however, is that story of a ‘good’ boy turned ‘bad’ because he didn’t study hard enough.
When I invite Johnnie, now my coaching client, to tell me his story, I need to listen carefully. Which character does he choose as his narrator (i.e. does he tell the story through his own eyes or through the eyes of the mother or girlfriend or the administrator who cut his funding)? Does he sound enthusiastic about his partying? Which tense does he use? Is he the subject of the story (‘I did XYZ to him, her, them’) or is he the object (‘he, she, they did XYZ to me’)? What themes or motifs recur (or are missing) – illness, relationships, failure, temptation, bad luck? What labels recur (i.e. ‘good’ or ‘bad’)? To whom or what do they attach? If listening to all these variables isn’t hard enough, I need to a remain aware that I’m always interpreting them through my own point of view. Am I making judgements on his story? Do I understand how telling it is making him feel? If it’s a sad story, does it make me sad? If so, am I sad because my client’s story touches some sadness (mother dying) already in me?
Through careful questioning, can I get Johnnie to rejig his story, throw it in a more positive (or less negative) light? Maybe he tries another point of view character (first person or third person) or verb tense (past, present, future) or even imagine a completely different crucial scene? How about rewriting a whole new story any way that he’d like? What or who might be different?
Interestingly, there’s lots of leeway here because although storyline (plot) must move forward (cause and effect) in time, narrative does not. My client can start at the end of his story (or how he’d like it to end) and work backwards. Happens all the time in murder mysteries. We start out knowing who got killed and maybe even who did it – but we don’t know that all essential ‘why’ and ‘how’ until we refollow the crucial events from beginning to end! My goal here is for my client to open up space for a different or new story to develop – an opportunity to fill in gaps and ambiguities or flesh out and develop certain characters and/or motives. We may all know that little Johnnie did drop out of university (the facts are on the table) but we really don’t know why until we explore it. We also don’t know where the story progresses from here – maybe Johnnie finds another unrewarding job (for whatever reason) or may he returns to university and wins a Noble Peace Prize.
Sound fun but not for everyone?
OK, I’ll accept that.
I also have to accept that purely by the nature and focus of my questions, I’ve influenced my client’s newly crafted story. Is it really still his story or has it now become mine?
One of my favourite novels is The Glass Bead Game, by Herman Hesse. It was published, I think, sometime in the 1940’s. Basically the plot revolves around a utopian community rather like a posh boarding school, where young boys are sent by their wealthy, influential parents to learn that they need to be tomorrow’s leaders. In most cases, at the end of their study, the boys go back out into the world where they become ‘movers and shakers’. However once in a while, a student does so well in his studies that he’s asked to remain at the school and devote his life to playing the Glass Bead Game.
Now, this game isn’t any ordinary game – indeed as readers, we don’t get a detailed sense of what it really entails. However, through the lens of the novel’s hero, Joseph Knecht, we do learn that it requires wide-ranging skills in areas as diverse as science, music, literature, art, history, western philosophy and eastern spiritualty. Interestingly, the game never has a winner – that is not its purpose after all. Best I remember (it was a long time ago when I last read it), the game is meant to push the players to become ‘all that they can be’ – sounds a good deal like coaching and not surprisingly, our hero, Joseph, does undergo a good deal of coaching.
Once he’s Magister Ludi (head of the school and master of the game), Joseph’s time and attention becomes so much in demand, that he requires a personal coach to help him manage himself. Not so unlike the busy CEO of a Fortune Five Hundred, I should think. He needs to manage his emotions, his people skills, time management, etc. etc.
But something goes wrong along the way (as it does in novels). Maybe the coaches weren’t focused enough or Joseph simply loses his way? Anyway, by the novel’s climax Joseph questions his loyalty both to the school and the game and asks to leave. Unfortunately, he failed to realise that he no longer was prepared for life outside his cloistered world – and only several days after attaining his ‘freedom’, he dies of a heart-attack whilst swimming in a cold mountain lake.
When I first read this novel, the thing that struck me was how narrow Joseph’s focus had become over the years – although he was wildly successful at his game, he seemed to be failing at life. Joseph’s situation is not an isolated case. How many times have you seen professionals so focused on performing well in their jobs that their marriages end, their kids hate them, and/or they end up very ill or dead?
In regards to coaching practice, this highlights something that I’ve been concerned about for some time. I take the point that I’m coaching adults – and hence not responsible for setting their goals. But don’t I still have some duty to my client when I clearly see him/her heading down a path that is all too likely to lead to his/her own cold mountain lake?
In the western world, you have a duty of self-improvement – to be authentic, competitive, thin, attractive, and (among many other things) coiffed and couture.
But did you realise that all the standards to which you aspire are culturally determined, even though you are meant to believe you developed them yourself?
Worse, you’re so intent on becoming the hero/heroine of your own story and (after minor setbacks) living happily ever after, that you fail to question what being ‘happy’ really means. Worst of all, being (or pretending to be) ‘happy’ is so integral to 21st century life that when you realise that you’ve failed in any way, you’re bereft.
After all, isn’t it true that if you fail to achieve your dreams, you have no one else to blame but yourself? Isn’t it true that if you only try hard enough (coaching, self-help books, and/or motivational speakers) you’ll bound to succeed? Isn’t it true that there’s nothing that you can’t accomplish if you set your mind to it?
At least, this is the answer provided by Will Storr, in his recent book, Selfie: How We Became So Self-Obsessed & What It’s Doing to Us. According to Storr, the hard, cold reality is that you are imperfect and will stay that way.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t improve yourself. Of course, you can and you should! But it does mean that as long as you keep comparing yourself to an unachievable standard of perfection, you will never be happy. Make no bones about it, the pressure to be perfect (and consequently, happy) is so intense as to make you chronically miserable (or worse).