I was wrong about Coaching (part 2/7)
Coaching – not sure it is for me?
It was not until I asked to go on a Leadership Development course had I formally heard of ‘Coaching (and Mentoring).’ Day 1 of Leading from the Middle was almost nine years ago to the day (from when I initially drafted this post). There was a lengthy and important introduction to the course, regarding professionalism and confidentiality, which I reported back then as “turgid” though I note that I had to remind myself to be more “open-minded,” about new protocol and new se things. Advice I would had been well advise to have taken more note of – particularly with reference to Coaching and Mentoring.
That afternoon we were introduced Coaching and Mentoring. I remember it being quite general, an overview, something and nothing. (I remember thinking that the gentlemen presenting the section was not convincing). I remember feeling less than convinced and that feeling was shared by our group, who didn’t follow the directions for the break-out task. Half hidden away in nooks and crannies, we shared our experiences of being Coached (minimal) and employing coaching conversations in our own leadership (almost none). Perhaps this lack of exposure was a contributory factor as to why we hadn’t bought into the observed Coach-Coachee break-out conversation activity? I was left
…undecided despite encouragement to see coaching as a leadership tool.
Six months later at the end of the course, after my first attempts to employing some form of basic coaching with a member of my team, I was even less unconvinced and possible cynical. Coaching felt flimsy. I didn’t see how it was investing in and valuing in staff, their perspective and their interpretations. At this point in my career, leading meant being out in front. Setting and driving the vision of the department, driving positive change, supporting (mentoring) colleagues.
Jane Suter: What would have encouraged you to see coaching as a leadership tool, e.g. facts and figures, an inspirational delivery?
In fairness to the course, Coaching and Mentoring was one small component of Leading from the Middle. What is now the NPQML. In attempting to cover the gamut of all things leadership, it offered only a shallow presentation of most of the topics, without any signposted exit routes for delegates to follow.
There were two additional barriers to my uptake of Coaching. Firstly, ‘we’ (my triad) as I said, had received minimal exposure to being Coached ourselves and we had even less Coaching experience to reference. There was little reason to buy-into Coaching. I another example of ‘If we knew better, we could do better.’ Would facts or figures helped? Possibly. Maybe case studies or advocates (both Coaches and Coachees). The more I think about it, the more I realise it was as much as about readiness as it was about the value of Coaching on team (and ourselves). I wasn’t open minded enough and the value was not underlined and communicated.
Returning to readiness; at this point in my careers, leadership was very much conceived as driving improvement – action. Leadership was “what we did or were doing,” rather than what we were able to “empower others to do.” With the action transferred to the Coachee – at this point in my conceptions of leadership, Coaching felt lazy.
I did give Coaching a go. Of sorts, however, I presented the two approaches, Coaching and Mentoring, dichotomously as we had experienced on the course. With just an afternoon’s training introduction under my belt, that was how I understood it. With the Coachee/Mentee given the options of being “Coached” or being “Mentored,” and I am confident it did little to assure the forth-coming conversation. As you will see in a moment, it was not particularly successful.
Leading up to my weekly one-to-one meeting with our GTP mentee, I told him, “This week, I will be taking a different approach or style to our conversation.” [pause] “I am interested in his hearing more from your view point.” That is how I had conceived Coaching. I was giving over control, because I wanted to hear his views. (I was still not ready to share control of the conversations, not really). At the end of a rather long email reply about his portfolio and his teaching, he reflected
Thanks again for your mentor support (I prefer it to coaching! 🙂 )
Jane Suter: What skills, behaviours, knowledge was the mentee seeing, hearing etc in you as mentor and coach – what was the difference? Can you take a 3rd person perspective on your sessions with him?
Mentoring was presented as, here is a situation and this is what I observed. These were your actions and this is what was the observed outcome – though often presented as fact. We would exchange thoughts before I would offer an evaluative assessment with possible “directed” approaches or suggested alternatives – me driving again. He would then assess those options, select which he thought was the most appropriate and apply it to his teaching. He would then report back through the week, often informally and then formally in his one-to-one meeting through his STAR documents (University proforma). Of course, if I saw or heard about him employing my ideas successfully during the week, I would recognise it and celebrate ‘our’ success.
Coaching was presented in much the same way. Here is a situation and this is what I observed… let’s discuss your actions. This was the observed outcome. What are your options at this point? What could you have done? What would have made a difference? Who was available to you to advise you? More than likely a more fruitful conversation for my mentee, if not refined.
My colleague, was a teacher in training (I didn’t like, and still don’t like GTP or PGCE student) and former Learning Support Assistant. He was a very talented teachers who the students respected and trusted. He is a now a successful teacher and Middle Leader himself (his success not ours and I am proud of him too). I have to say, he was very supportive of my early leadership and open minded enough to explore Coaching with me. In truth, I think he would make a better Coach than me. We are still in touch now. We had a trusting relationship as Assistant Headteacher / Head of ICT/ PGCE mentor and Teacher in training / mentee and trying stuff out was part of our adventurous outlook. Together we gave Coaching a stab. Neither of us was mortally wounded.
Neither of us were exactly convinced either.