Finding direction for ourselves and/or leading others, at any level, isn’t easy. It’s an invitation into an uncomfortable place filled with doubt, constraints, difficulty, and struggle. When we accept that invitation, we find within ourselves truth, strength, and resilience.
Coaches enter into an ecosystem and understand our position in that system; they do not take on the stresses of our system. They do not prescribe what we should do. They share our concerns, convey empathy with our situation, and help us think creatively about our options. When we are stuck, or performing poorly, thinking creatively is where we are most challenged. Under pressure, we develop a myopic view of what is possible, making most options impossible.
Coaches help us identify our anxieties. They help us better understand mental processes that hold us back, keep us stuck, and inhibit our ability solve problems under pressure. Here, coaches model the behavior we are looking for: to remain independent thinkers while working interdependently to confront challenges constructively.
Coaches demand our willingness to enter into a maturing process that helps increase our resiliency and effectiveness.
As important as self-awareness is, coaches are not there simply for understanding and insights. They demand our willingness to enter into a maturing process that helps increase our resiliency and effectiveness. They require us to take action, learn from our experiences, and set new goals for action that lead to a stronger sense of our leadership presence. The stronger and more robust our presence is—our ability to sit with our own discomfort and the discomfort of others—the easier it will be to integrate practicing the ability to identify reasonable goals, manage ourselves amidst our own discomfort and that of others, increase our tolerance for reactivity, and be candid with our experiences. Mastery of these practices is a lifelong commitment.
In perceiving and reacting to our performance, those around us may be sporadically annoyed, frustrated, jealous, bored, vindictive, keen to prove a point or distracted by their own set of concerns. Coaches bring a focused, generous attention to our situation. They create a safe, no-consequences conversational space, separate from day-to-day pressures. They are genuinely sorry if we have lost political capital on a project for which we bled. They understand that it must have been worrying to get a new boss right before they were promised a promotion, enraging to be overlooked after delivering a key project, or exciting to have acquired a new team. They know what it feels like to be stuck without a sense of direction. They recognize we didn’t do whatever it is we are there to discuss on purpose and assume some logic on our part if we did. They do not flatter us, but they do strive to enter into our experience, shoulder to shoulder, and help us make sense of our experience so that we can see a broader set of choices than the one we originally picked. They look at reality through our eyes so as to start offering an alternative point of view and become an effective sounding board for future decision making.
Such support allows us to exhale and breathe a sigh of relief. Day to day survival in corporate politics (and everywhere else) requires that we constantly weigh the impact of our words and actions on others. We have to consider their priorities, take a genuine interest in their lives, and make room for their concerns.
With a coach, there is little inquiry into their personal experience. The coach inquires what is top of mind for us, not the other way around. The relationship is as one-sided as the parent-advocate who doesn’t expect the child to worry about their sleep, but who provides ground rules to live by.
Leading others, at any level, isn’t easy. It’s an invitation into an uncomfortable place filled with doubt, constraints, difficulty, and struggle. When we accept that invitation we find within ourselves truth, strength, and resilience.
However, the coach does not sacrifice equality in the relationship. They’ll show us understanding while holding us accountable to our goals. They give us tough feedback so we can see reality with greater clarity. They are fully present to help us find what is best for us, understood on our terms.
Support is not just pleasant. Support is structured, and essential to us tapping into our own reserves. Knowing that we have someone in our corner is designed to lend us the courage to face up to experiences we normally avoid. In a sufficiently calm, reassuring and attentive environment, we can look at areas of vulnerability we otherwise lack the courage to tackle. We need to learn to confront our managers unproductive interventions that derail project priorities. We need to make key leadership decisions resulting in team restructuring and strategy shifts. We have to be able to deal with toxic team members in a way that doesn’t blow back on us. Above all, we must know where we are headed on our own life path, and why. With a supportive advocate in our corner, we can summon the vulnerability needed to reflect on our own decisions and behavior—that perhaps we were wrong correcting someone in front of the team, or that we made a hasty career decision that cost us, or that we have been angry with a peer for long enough, that it might be best to outgrow our justifications.
The support of another person gives us the emotional safety needed shine light in a constructive way at our crafty, mysterious, evasive minds.
This blog post is part of a series related to The Little Book of Coaching pending publication.