How do we Evolve as Coaches and Leaders?

How Do We Evolve As Coaches And Leaders?

I recently had the privilege of joining the University of South Wales at their 10th year anniversary Coaching Conference where I was invited to share a keynote on how do we evolve as coaches and leaders and how do we help our clients evolve in their thinking?

In preparation for this speech, I reviewed my own and other’s lived experiences and discovered a recipe with a number of ingredients in how we might EVOLVE more intentionally. Firstly let’s check in with our mutual understanding of the verb evolve. The dictionary defines it as to develop gradually, or to cause something or someone develop gradually.

It seems to me that as a coach or leader you are a catalyst for your clients and team members to gradually grow and develop both personally and professionally. Equally there are times when your client or team member may experience a transformation through your coaching conversations having a significant impact in their personal and professional lives.

I believe as coaches and leaders we have a profound responsibility and privilege in our roles because of the impact we have on the lives of others – the way they think, feel and act. This may sound daunting. This may sound exciting. Coaching conversations expand from the tender to the challenging, each one of them having an impact on the life of another. And so how do we evolve as coaches and leaders more intentionally?

Below I share the ingredients by way of an acronym in the form of a question which I’d love to engage with you on:

Who do you ENGAGE on your journey?
What VALUES do you want to upgrade?
What enables you to be OPEN-MINDED?
What is the purpose of your LISTENING?
What VARIETY of experiences do you create?
What takes you and others to the unexplored EDGE of their thinking?

Who do you engage on your journey?
I realised that my own journey became clear once I looked back and joined the dots. I enjoyed a career serving people in the corporate environment from secretary to HR director spanning 16 years. Later I was encouraged by Gladena McMahon and inspiring and dedicated coach, to consider and retrain as a coach based upon my observations and impact of conversations I was having with individuals as they navigated the many organisational restructures we witnessed in the early 2000s. I was curious to learn more.

Coaching was not so well known in the corporate setting at that time. I had studied NLP with the superb Ian McDermott and Jan Elfine and became more interested on the impact of language and emotions in our lives and so began my coach training in this field. A few years later I pursued a post grad diploma in psychological coaching deepening my understanding yet further on what it means to be human under the wise stewardship of Stephen Palmer, Gladena and colleagues at the Centre for Coaching.

Twelve years ago I discovered the Thinking Environment and the work of Nancy Kline. This experience transformed my life. As a mum, daughter, sister, friend and my coaching practice. I discovered a different level of listening and how to help others think as and for themselves rather than conforming to what others wanted them to think or being fearful of reprimand when they did share their thoughts.

As I looked back, I saw what each part of the journey had taught me. I also acknowledge that I was not alone, at each stage I had been inspired, encouraged and stretched by my coach supervisors Georgina Woudstra and Anne Hathaway, teachers and leadership mentors Bob Chapman and Anthony Howard in my leadership and coaching evolution.

Supporting our coaching clients is to invite them to consider who do they engage in their life, in their relationships, in their work in support of their personal vision. We evolve as we ENGAGE with others to help us become who we are meant to become.

What values are driving your decisions?
Reflecting on your own coaching and leadership journey is in itself a useful process in how you have evolved. Specifically, at the start of your journey, what values underpinned your decisions and behaviours? Pursuing a career as a coach requires much learning, commitment and excellence most definitely if you want to pursue an accreditation.

These were indeed my own values when I began my coach training. As I grew in experience and skills I continued to revisit my values and upgrade them. Today the values that drive my decisions are those of nurturing, gratitude, personal growth, and goodness. I decided to upgrade my values in service of my ongoing vision where I imagine a world where we listen first enabling others to step up and into who they are meant to be.

Nelson Mandela, an exceptional leader was someone who upgraded his values as he evolved. He had a vision to bring about a rainbow nation. In his early years he was very different to who he became after 27 years in prison. Prior to his incarceration he described himself as an angry and rebellious man fighting injustice. He left honouring the values of humility, wisdom, reconciliation and forgiveness.

“As I have said, the first thing is to be honest with yourself. You can never have an impact on society if you have not changed yourself.”
– Nelson Mandela

Supporting our coaching clients and team members is to invite them to revisit and upgrade their values as they consider who they wish to become. We evolve as we upgrade our VALUES revealing our lived experience and what is important now in service of our personal vision.

What enables you to be open-minded?
Over the past year I have asked a number of audiences to describe how they would characterise our current reality. The same words emerge each time; unpredictable, changing, unknowing, chaotic, possibility, urgent, confused, anxious. Given our reality, how do we as coaches, leaders and human beings evolve to thrive not simply survive in the context we find ourselves in today? I propose we need to be open-minded so that we can continue to adapt, be flexible, think as and for ourselves, be willing to change and to keep learning.

Kendra Cherry, in her article How to be More Open-Minded describes open mindedness is being non-prejudiced, tolerant and being willing to see another’s perspective. Being open- minded helps us to gain insight, have new experiences, achieve personal growth, become mentally strong, feel more optimistic and learn new things – all of which help us navigate the complex reality we face today. Cherry goes on to say we benefit from being open-minded as it helps us learn new things, grow as a person and become more optimistic and resilient in the face of life’s challenges.

Supporting our clients and team members is to role model our own open-mindedness, celebrating what’s right with the world and encouraging different perspectives. We evolve when we choose to be OPEN-MINDED to what is possible.

Being open minded also requires us to deepen our capacity to listen.

What is the purpose of your listening?
In my work, I have discovered 5 levels of listening, each of them having a purpose.

  1. Self-listening – pausing, being present with yourself and reflecting: What is working well? What am I assuming that is holding me back? How do I feel? What thought is behind that feeling? What do I want to change? And then listening to your answers with compassion rather than in combat to help develop a greater self-awareness. We need to get good at listening to ourself so we can listen well to others.
  2. Pretend listening – your mind is elsewhere being caught up in your thoughts and feelings and your eyes are wandering and glazed. Your attention is no longer on the person speaking.
  3. Factual – listening for information and the facts which will help to discern a course of action, make a decision, and clarifying our understanding of what we have heard.
  4. Empathetic – listening to the non-verbal cues, emotions and feelings of another and acknowledging what you have heard and seen so that the other feels seen, heard and understood.
  5. Generative – listening to free and ignite the mind rather than direct it for another to be their best self. Holding a safe space free from interruption and judgement that says ‘you matter’.

In one conversation, we may be in any one or all of these levels of listening. As we deepen our listening skills and experience, we are able to adjust to the situation and person to whom we are listening, therefore deepening our connection, enhancing our communication and releasing the human potential in front of us.

“When we speak, we say what we already know, but when we listen, we may learn something new.”
– Dalai Lama

We evolve when we LISTEN generatively to ourselves and others, fostering the finest independent thinking honouring our own and others’ dignity.

What variety experiences do you create?
The pandemic created new experiences and opportunities for many. I wonder what you experienced in your coaching and leadership practices and how they expanded in ways you had not imagined before the pandemic? Perhaps you began working with clients outside of your region or specific area. For example, many coaches gave up their time and shared their skills with the NHS, for the first time, during the pandemic. New programmes were commissioned in serving those who took care of those with Covid.

Technology enabled us to connect globally. We witnessed a level of acceptance for a new way of being and working with each other. My hunch is that you used your coaching and leadership skills and experience beyond your everyday practice into in your community, at the school gates, with your own family.

Supporting our clients evolve in their thinking is to invite them consider a variety of experiences in their work and life. We evolve when we create a VARIETY of experiences, new experiments, possibilities and opportunities.

It takes courage to create and step into these new experiences, just as it does to go to the unexplored edge of our thinking. The last ingredient in our recipe.

What takes us to the unexplored Edge of our Thinking?
Being a Thinking Environment coach, facilitator and teacher is a privileged role to uphold because the nature of this work reveals having a deep impact on the lives of others. The decision to be a Thinking Environment for others is a way of being. It is to embody The Ten Components of a Thinking Environment and it is in this embodiment that we are able to take our clients to the unexplored edge of their thinking.

When we give our attention free from interruption and judgement, holding a deep respect for others in their thinking and where they go next, they think well as and for themselves, often uninhibited. When we create an equality between us, they think better due to the absence of hierarchy. When we ourselves are at ease in our listening free from rush and urgency, they think with greater clarity. When we appreciate the goodness, the character qualities we witness in them, they think with even more imagination. When we encourage them to think and feel more, freeing them from the internal competition in their own mind, they are filled with courage to go further than they imagined in their thinking.

When we welcome the release of feelings honouring their humanity, they will think and feel more deeply than if we simply stepped over their feelings and closed the space down. When we prioritise their lived experience and celebrate their difference rather than wanting them to think and be just like us, they will know and feel that they matter for who they are not just what they do. When we, as the listener, absorb all the facts and provide information when asked in service of the thinker, they will continue to think well for themselves.

When we ask incisive questions to remove untrue limiting assumptions and replace them with those that are liberating and true, breakthrough ideas emerge, new ways of behaviour are revealed and the dignity of the human mind and soul is revealed right in front of our eyes, the listener’s eyes. When we create a place that says ‘you matter’ both in the physical environment that is free from distraction and also our own – the listener’s body and face – they will think with greater ease and confidence. Being a Thinking Environment coach, facilitator and teacher is a privileged role to uphold.

“The most valuable thing we can offer each other is the framework in which to think for ourselves”
– Nancy Kline

Generating a space for another to think as and for themselves is still radical. It is radical not because it is difficult but because it is rare. Today, there continues to be much societal and organisational pressure to think and feel that we need to think and be like others in order to fit in, feel like we belong, or conform to be accepted. Whereas in reality, it is the very nature of our capacity to think independently well for ourselves that our teams, organisations and communities benefit from. It is our unique perspective that when given the chance to contribute our own thoughts and ideas brings creativity and difference in resolving a situation, a challenge, a problem or taking forward an opportunity for the good of all.

I acknowledge the courage every one of my clients demonstrates in our coaching conversations. Because it takes courage to go to the unexplored edge of our thinking and it is at this edge that we grow and develop. And it’s worth it.

We support our clients and team members to go the the unexplored EDGE of their thinking by choosing to embody the ten components of a Thinking Environment. We evolve when we engage in our finest independent thinking for the good of all.

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”
– Maya Angelou

I celebrate you in your own journey of evolving in who you have become and who you go on to become.

Thank you for listening!

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