Coaching ConferenceThe 3rd Welsh Coaching Conference, held at Cardiff City football ground, was a great success and even more useful than last year.

As a small business, it’s always a challenge to prioritise personal development, but attending this event was the right decision.

It seems I’m not alone in thinking that either as the number of coaches attending had almost double this year.

We were all treated to a packed agenda, well organised by the USW Commercial team and expertly chaired by the inimitable Dave Tee (now Director of USW Coaching Centre).

Talking with others over the breaks & visiting the various exhibition stands, you really get a feel that coaching has ‘grown up’ as a profession. Not only is it clearly established in Wales and serving clients across private, public & third sector roles. But the focus has matured from just seeking the latest novel model/process or tips on ‘how to get more clients’, to an interest in making a sustainable difference & adapting to the changing needs of clients (including a team focus).

Below I share the highlights of the day; those that have stayed with me. They are limited to the sessions I attended & a purely personal perspective, no sleight intended on those I happen not to recall at the moment. Here are those recollections:

Keynote (Prof. David Clutterbuck): “Moving to Mastery”

David, a leading global authority on coaching & mentoring. Author of over 50 books & active researcher, whose writings have influenced many coaches & the growth of the whole profession. He started with the great quote: “If you know where the conversation is going, it isn’t coaching“!

He then went on to share 4 areas or systems that need our attention: Individual Coaches; Organisations; The Profession of Coaching; Systems that interconnect them all.

With regards to us coaches, as individuals, David reminded us that we are all complex systems. Colonies of bacteria, affected by so many processes going on within us & responses to a vast array of external stimuli. He sees coaching as a process of raising self awareness in the client to improve decision making. Language is a way of filtering what is too much information into what we can process & focus upon. So, helping people create narratives against which they act is key as is the word ‘simplexity’ (which David coined); meaning making the complex simple but not simplistic. Reminding us of Daniel Kahnemann’s evidence that we walk around with a set of narratives in our head that cause us to notice some evidence & ignore others, he challenged us as coaches to consider if we were colluding with clients to reinforce their existing narrative or challenging them sufficiently? Advising that we should be asking ourselves, how much coherence & narrative does this person need to grow?

Turning to organisations, he shared a scale for measuring how embedded coaching was as a culture in organisations (with very few reaching embedded). One of the biggest issues reported was that leaders are less coaching orientated (& less committed to personal development) as they move ‘up the tree’. An interesting insight for FS & Energy sectors, was also that some organisations have found real revitalisation in Ethical Coaching. Empowering someone to help build ethical resilience in the organisation & be a ‘conscience’ within the organisation was welcomed by employees & heavily utilised. Given so many of these firms are looking to de-toxify their brands, perhaps this is a remedy to consider? Sadly, he also shared feedback on how most performance management systems are a barrier to such progress (as is surrounding people with numbers & systems rather than pictures of people). David also shared some evidence that it may be more effective to train internal coaches & that more & more clients need external coaches to focus on whole teams not just individuals.

Reflecting on the coaching profession as a whole, David was somewhat skeptical of accreditations. As he mused, you could have thousands of hours of coaching practice but still be an ineffective coach. Mastery doesn’t just come from ‘time served’. Instead he shared findings from a Coaching Assessment Centre. It seems the most critical difference they found between effective & ineffective coaches was the quality of reflection they did on their own practice. He also shared a useful 4 stage model of maturing as a coach. At the most immature were “model based coaches”, committed to just one model, they fall into the classic trap of seeing nails everywhere when you only have a hammer. Next up the scale were “process based coaches”, these are a but better, having gathered a repertoire of possible models/tools they can listen more to the client & draw from a portfolio to find something relevant. Further on are “discipline based coaches”, who focus more holistically on “being” not just “doing”, being present with the client as they integrate all that is going on in their life. The most mature example was the apparently very rare “systemically effective coaches” who are very aware of the systems at work & say very little (sounds like Nancy Kline). David described them as “holding the client while he/she has the conversation they need to have with themselves”.

Finally, David turned to the need for us to collect both powerful questions & not ignore taboo topics. Two examples of the former were: (1) What does your team really need you for? (2) What did you do that was kind to yourself this week? With regards to taboos, these included: collusion with client; sexual attraction to client; validity of outcome metrics & durability (how many coaches check back on progress 2 years after finished coaching client to see if improvements really embedded?)

After that academic tour de force, it was time for some workshops. Here are those that helped me:

Workshop: Solution Focussed Coaching with Paul Z. Jackson

Paul works in comedy improvisaiton as well as coaching & used to be journalist, so was a very engaging facilitator. Out experiential session introduced us all to Solution Focussed Coaching. This appears to be a really pragmatic & useful approach, routed in Positive Psychology (or as Paul described it “the action wing of positive psychology”). It helps clients focus on solutions not problems, by identifying what they want & helping them spot the resources they have within themselves to take small steps towards that goal. Sounds simple, but experiencing some of it in this workshop was emotionally impactful.

He shared a number of useful questions, tools & principles. But the easiest way to remember this method appears to be the acronym OSKAR:

O = Outcome (“What you want is…”)

S = Scale (“On a scale of 1-10, how far are you towards that goal?”)

K = KnowHow (“What works here? What has helped you make progress?”)

A = Affirm & Action (“Look how far you’ve come. What small step could you take now?”)

R = Review (“What’s better? How did you do that?”)

This method has historical grounding (going right back to psychologist William James, brother of Henry James) & the evidence of Randomised Control Trials to evidence it’s effectiveness. Clearly, like all models, it needs to only be used where appropriate & will become more natural by real practice. But lots of the advice for spotting “problem talk”, and helping the client pivot to a conversation that will serve them better, made sense. I will certainly bear this method in mind in future & find out more.

Workshop: Leadership Team Coaching with David Webster

David has extensive experience as a coach & psychologist, plus is director of Centre for Teams. He facilitated a very interactive session on how lessons learnt from individual coaching can be applied to helping teams, plus why this matters.

Interestingly he recommended watching the film “Everest” as an example of how & why leadership teams go wrong, together with the book “Destructive Goal Pursuit“. That tragic event on Mount Everest, which resulted in loss of life has been analysed extensively for lessons in team leadership. Here are 3 things that apparently contributed:

  1. Narrowly defined purpose/goals
  2. Highly directive leadership
  3. Failure to ‘see’ an ill defined problem

All three ring true to me from my own leadership experience. Micro-managing directors can disempower teams, as can inflexible objectives to be achieved ‘at any cost’. Apparently parts of the fatal team behaviour also reflects a common pattern of teams coming to a crisis where they look to the leader to “rescue them”. Avoiding that pitfall and creating a safe space for dissent & authentic conversations is part of the solution.

Finally, David shared 3 propositions to guide more effective leadership team coaching:

  • “It’s loops not lines” (recognising the need for cycles of learning/change & transition point between deciding/doing & reflecting/connecting)
  • “Slowing down to speed up works” (Kairos vs. Chronos & a useful radar chart exercise with axes for performance, learning, contribution & fun = take time to reflect)
  • “Everything is connected” (sharing the ‘triple-loop learning model’, considering not just behaviour change feedback loop, but also emotions/thoughts & even identity)

Well, things had got pretty deep by this point (I was musing on past learning from the field of PsychoSynthesis), so it was clearly time for another coffee break. Lunch & coffee breaks were great as well by the way, with plenty to eat. that set me up well for the final keynote presentation:

Keynote (Prof. Peter Hawkins): “Challenges in coaching for the next 10 years”

Another leading global authority on coaching, prolific writer & researcher, who has also helped shape the coaching profession over the last 30 years. Peter started by asking questions, as all good coaches should. These included: “What new skills will you need in 10 years time?” and “Who & what is it in service of?”. Then went on to share a story from his work in South Africa just after apartheid, where including the wives proved to be the best way to change the behaviour of a demotivated leadership team going through a merger. This human focus continued.

As well as sharing pictures of his grandchildren & why they are his motivation (I can relate to that emotional driver), Peter shared a number of challenges for the future & thoughts from leaders in their field. These included a quote I’d not heard from Peter Senge (author of ‘The Fifth Discipline‘ amongst other classics):

We know how to flourish in localised niches, but now we have created one global interconnected niche, that we have know idea how to flourish in.”

The idea that life has become more complex also led Peter to suggest ‘cracking the shell’ (or unlearning the certainties & rules of coaching training to be more open). Gathering evidence from many sources he shared a sobering view that our current ‘crisis’ of businesses needing to meet Greater Demand, with Higher Quality, at Lower Cost & More Sustainably is just the New Normal. The world for today’s & tomorrow’s leaders is not going to get any easier & coaches also need to adapt to help them find the resources they need.

As tips to help coaches step up too this societal challenge, Peter suggested the following:

  1. Focus on the connections (not just the individuals you coach or teams for him you consult, but their connections to others);
  2. Our job does not stop with insight & good intention (clients often need “don’t tell me, show me”, create spaces to practice);
  3. From focus on problems & changing behaviour to targeting potential resources (back to solutions focus);
  4. A coaching culture is needed (not just lots of coaching conversations, but how whole organisation learns & grows).

Well, but now I’d had plenty of challenge & mind expanding for the day. So, was ready for an outdoor workshop:

Workshop: “The Walking Coach” with Arthur Turner

Knowing Arthur form the co-coaching peer review group I attend, I knew this would be fun & insightful. It was both. Although our walking route was more limited (around the Cardiff City pitch), with some helpful prompts, as a group we experienced the potential power of walking with a client. For myself I found this made both the conversation & silence more comfortable, as well as providing potential analogies for things to discuss all around you. As you do this more, it’s surprising how your awareness of the environment around you grows & provides more potential triggers to identifying resources or at least conversation starters. I’d recommend all coaches to give it a go.

Arthur actually reminded me of something I missed when reading “Thinking Fast & Slow“, which is that Daniel Kahnemann mentions that we have evolved to think at a strolling space. I certainly find it easier to pace up & down when thinking creative about a problem. I wonder how the organisations of tomorrow can create convenient walking spaces for quality thinking?

Oops, I’ve started to muse again. So, it must be time to stop this very long post. I hope it’s useful & the content justifies the time you’ve spent reading this.

Thanks for your attention & if you are a coach, I’d recommend attending the 4th Wales Coaching Conference next year.