A “coaching” (or “clarifying”) breakthrough

November 3, 2009

Was this a “breakthrough” for me, or for my client, or both.  I’m not sure that I need to care — as I believe both of us finished this session with more insight, more clarity, and a renewed sense of how images and metaphors can help us understand reality.

My client manages a social service organization, and often struggles with the balance of his time spent running the organization today, and envisioning how it could and should be tomorrow.  This is often the subject of our work together, and it was the focus of our last session.

Vison-service-accountability-communityAfter listening for a while, I drew this diagram, and asked him to rate the quality of his engagement in four areas. Not surprisingly he could easily validate his work ensuring excellent service, and good accountability.  Developing a vision for the future, and getting the community of stakeholders engaged and committed to such a vision is much harder, so these areas didn’t fare as well.  (Each rating is drawn as an arc — a small arc at #1 as least satisfactory, and a large arc at #9 as best.)

Then I asked him to enter the amount of time spent on each of these areas, and the amount of time he wished were entered.  Clearly there was a lack of balance between the importance of each area, and the effort put into it.  But why?

Running and monitoring programs is a very concrete activity, with obvious activities, and well accepted metrics.  It’s easy to see what this kind of work looks like.  But when I asked him what the vision work looked like, there wasn’t such a simple and clear model. And without a list of tasks to do, it was not hard to understand that there wasn’t that much acitivity.

I asked him to imagine that his job didn’t include all these areas — that he was just “Manager of Vision” — with other managers handling service, accountability, etc.  Now, on hearing almost  the same question that I’d asked before, he could quickly list a number of aspects to the well structured visioning task.  Just being able to contemplate this aspect of his job alone, without competing tasks demanding his attention, he was able to quickly outline aspects of a very solid approach to vision planning.

I share this story as an illustration of what coaching is about.  The client knows much more about his work than I might as coach, and he — not I — am the one who can find solutions, identify tasks, make commitments.  My role to to provide a framework, ask questions, create an energetic climate, in which his brilliance could show, and in which he could more easily take charge of his own agenda.  My contribution to the content of his solution was minimal — perhaps non-existent — but my role in the process that led to his identifying that content was important although still limited.  One of my most important jobs is to get out of the way, so that the client can take over.

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