Previous coaching experiences had been purely sporting and reasonably positive. After 12 years of playing golf poorly I signed up with a golf professional that had set up shop close to where I was working. With the help of video, he promised a new golf swing in five sessions. In my attic I still have the video complete with his smile when he saw my swing. But the swing improved and I wondered why I waited so long. But I was about to start a very different sort of coaching. Three hours talking about an area I wanted to improve in. No video, just me, the coach, a desk and spoken words - lots of them.
Coaching is a common enough phenomenon in the sporting world. You go to an expert and he/she evaluates your golf swing, tennis serve, bowling action and tells you where you are going wrong and how to put it right. Like a sports coach, my coach was seeking improvement but as we will see later, that’s where the comparison ends.
There has been a massive rise in coaching in the business world. It’s a key component of the leadership development of major firms including, BP Amoco, Lloyds TSB and Shell. As companies streamline, coaching is increasingly seen as a better option than training seminars. Training offers general advice, but cannot focus on the individual concerns that may be holding someone back.
Some including Trevor Waldock, founder of The Executive Coach who would be my coach for the next three hours, believe coaching could have a major impact on the way churches and Christian organisations develop their staff and lay volunteers. Waldock has a growing client base of business clients from various parts of the UK and provides one day a week for the Christian/charity sector free. The number of coaching sessions is dictated by the issue, the progress made and how much the company or individual wish to invest in the process.
So Christianity+Renewal sent me to his offices near the Guild Hall in the heart of the city of London to find out more. I spent three hours being coached myself, followed by a reflective follow-up conversation with my ‘coach’ a week later. I went to discover exactly what coaching is? (see the table below). Is this a way of working with people that could be of benefit within churches and Christian organisations? What are the key elements?
What is coaching?
- According to Miles Downey, of the School of Coaching, run in asscociation with the Industrial Society, ‘Coaching is the art of facilitating the learning and developing of an individual’.
- “A coach is asking, how do I help a person learn and develop. It starts from the presupposition that people are keen to grow but are held back from doing so. Obstacles to high performance are sometimes external, lack of skill or more frequently internal blockages, self limiting beliefs - what is called ‘interference’. A coach seeks to identify the ‘interference’ that prevents development.” explains Trevor Waldock, founder of The Executive Coach. “Put as a formula: performance equals potential minus interference.”
- Coaching is client-centred and ensures that learning and development happens.
- Waldock uses the truism, “Give a starving man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach him to fish and feed him for a lifetime.”
- So coaching is different from other forms of personal development. The box below shows the difference between the development styles. Not all forms of mentoring and delegation are as described, but many are.
Asks: ‘What do you want to talk about? What do you want to go away with? Tell me more. What are your options? So what are you going to do?
Says:‘This is the way I do it, copy me and we’ll discuss how you got on’.
Says: ‘Here’s the job, let’s clarify what you are going to do and what support you need. Then let’s get on with it.’
Says: ‘This is the way to do it. Do it this way and you will be fine’.
Focus on the issue
The first rule of coaching is to decide on the issue. I had e-mailed my coach with a few issues we could discuss and he assured me that it was up to me.
Anything is fair game. You could be coached on making improvements in an aspect of your job, seeking promotion, relational issues, parenting, balancing work and leisure, giving a presentation. Among his many clients, Waldock has coached someone preparing for interview, a business executive keen to raise his performance, a pastor seeking to communicate a strategy with his church and develop and lead a staff team, and someone considering a job move.
So clarifying the goals for the session is crucial. Waldock explains: “Maximum benefit comes when we maximise the focus. Sometimes this can take a while. For example I met with a Senior Executive in the Motor Industry. He was already at a high level of performance. We spent two and a half hours just discussing where it is that he should focus. But when you figure out the question it can be very liberating. When people focus it liberates performance. The advantage of a coach means that it creates space to focus on the real issues, space which we don ’t generally create for ourselves.”
For me the issue concerned decision-making. As we sat in his office, I was hopeful that I had isolated the area that could improve my performance in a whole host of areas. We began with me outlining the issue and why I felt it was important. I spoke of past areas and how I had handled them. I was occasionally prompted by Waldock’s questions that sought to bring me back to the issue in hand. He made occasional notes and after maybe half an hour, summed up what he was hearing me saying.
His feedback highlighted some of the language I was using. According to our discussion I use the words ‘I sense’ and ‘I feel’ a lot. (This was no real surprise as temperament preference testing shows that I focus on my senses when receiving information and make decisions based on values/feelings.)
He also suggested I am rarely ‘off guard’.
Waldock also observed that the way I speak about the past suggests that I am in, or coming through, a grieving process about situations in the past.
This issue in particular could have sidetracked the discussion, but couldn’t be dealt with there and then. It is for this reason that many coaches have a counselling background, or at least can spot counselling issues that need a different sort of remedy. Waldock spoke of a client who was a Director of company in the UK. In a conversation about his future performance and wanting to be more engaged in the job it emerged that he actually needed to deal with grief and loss that had led him to mild depression and could not move on in his career until he had done so.
I think I know myself reasonably well, but there’s was something slightly jarring in someone using words like ‘never off guard’. Was it really true? But his words were also insightful and there was something about being forced to attach words to my mental process that gave me insight. My coach would press me to articulate what I meant by a phrase or word and spotted when I described the same event in very different language. It wasn’t just the coach’s comments but the freedom of the conversation that had value.
After more talk, I was asked, “So what do you want to achieve? What do you want to go away with?” I felt like saying, “You’re the expert, you tell me. I am spilling out my guts here, I am not at all sure what exactly I want to go away with.” But instead I asked for a break.
I needed to think fast. I was being forced to choose. I had chatted for over an hour, how could I make the next period count? I was learning that the key thing in coaching is taking responsibility. So I narrowed the issue down. “I want to be able to evaluate the factors affecting my decision-making in a particular area,” I said. A few Christian friends had questioned the value of coaching, “Isn’t coaching getting someone else to make decisions for you?” one had said. But coaching is non-directive. It forces the person coached to take responsibility.
This goes against the mentality where we expect to be told. Some Pastors are scripted to tell their congregation what and how to do things. They have a preaching mentality that says ‘I have the answer, you don’t, therefore I will tell you’. At times this is of course thoroughly appropriate. Waldock argues that a more non-directive teaching style is often used by Jesus in the Gospels. In parables, Jesus takes us into the centre of the story in order to use the tension he creates to make a point. The action/outcome is often left up to the hearer. He asks his disciples and hearers open-ended questions: “Who do you say I am?”
It was as the conversation narrowed in focus that I felt we were starting to motor. We listed the factors affecting my decision making, and talked about the spiritual dimension and my view of guidance. I explained that I believed that God gives us direction from the Bible, which may be quite specific. So if the Bible covers it, the decision about what to do is clear. But my decision-making concerns were on areas not covered by the Bible. I explained that with non-biblical decisions I ask God to show me. Circumstances, advice of friends and Spirit-given sense of ‘rightness’ may guide me specifically, but in the absence of these I believe I have freedom to choose. However, deep down I want God to show me specifically what I should do and tend to procrastinate endlessly when he doesn ’t.
As I was speaking it dawned on me that I want God to make the decision for me, fearing that a wrong move could lead to disaster. Up to this point, the coach had been mostly reflecting my views, clarifying that he understood and provoking my thinking with questions. Now he spoke at more length.
He believed that this whole area of uncertainty was an ‘interference’ in my ability to make good decisions. He made some suggestions about ways of viewing the decision-making process and created some hypothetical scenarios for me to think through. By now it was nearing 11:45 and we were to finish at 12. Waldock said that there were some areas we could have explored further. Had I been a typical client I could have arranged another appointment. Nevertheless he urged me to write my own action plan together with time frame, which included my reflections on our session. We booked a time for a phone conversation about ‘coaching’ as a subject..
I left with my head reeling, emotionally exhausted but satisfied that useful ground had been covered. The more I thought about the morning, the more I could see the value of coaching, especially someone pressing me on issues that I know I want to change. It ’s true I could get this by simply being accountable to someone, but a coach helps me in the all crucial question of what to be accountable about. Furthermore I can see the enormous value in focusing on one area – how often have I failed to deal with a problem because I failed to isolate the real issue to be addressed.
I could also see that it is vital for the coach to have some insight into wider questions about personality if they are not to place band aids when only surgery would really do. I also reflected that hours of training seminars within churches and Christian organisation, some of which I had led, some as participant, had led to so little change. I had questions with how coaching fits into a biblical framework and was helped by Waldock’s picture of a darkened room with lots of windows. As the windows are uncovered light streams in. The coach wants the coachee to ‘live in the light.’ Coaching is the applying of wisdom to the situation (as in the Book of Proverbs) “If wisdom is applied knowledge and what you do with that knowledge, coaching assists someone in the understanding of themselves and how to act on the knowledge they have.” Waldock explained. It could be argued that some of the approaches Jesus used in his training of the Twelve, are akin to coaching.
It was 12 years before I visited a golf coach because there was a secret pleasure in being able to say: “I ’m self taught you know!” (This was actually obvious to anyone who had the misfortune to see me swing a golf club...) But self-taught meant allowing for quirks in my swing, which prevented me making progress beyond an 18-handicap.
And although this coaching is clearly different, the parallels are obvious. We live with personal quirks in all sorts of areas. Our friends and work colleagues get to know them, work round them, and occasionally laugh at them. But the truth is we too often find ourselves in the rough, or bunker with no shot to the green. Maybe it will one day become more normal for the Christian to let someone else look at, or help think through their swing. It may be that a tweak here and there will make all the difference, so that we make the progress we want to make before God. If coaching is so common and of so much benefit in the sporting world, why not the Church/Christian world? Golfers may disagree but the business of the kingdom is just that bit more serious.
Next month we look in more detail at how coaching can benefit churches and Christian organisations. On November 9th at Danbury Mission, Danbury, Essex, Trevor Waldock is running a seminar for leaders keen to understand how coaching can be used in churches and Christian organisations. For more details: email firstname.lastname@example.org Or phone: 020 7830 9795 Log on to www.theexecutivecoach.co.uk to find out more about coaching.