I recently joined one of the pre-conference webinars for the World Business & Executive Coach Summit (www.wbecs.com) which was being led by Sir John Whitmore. Sir John kindly wrote the foreword for ‘Challenging Coaching’ and I was keen to hear his latest thoughts since he has been a valued mentor and inspiration to me in my coaching career ever since I read his classic book ‘Coaching for Performance’ back in the nineties.
John was his usual challenging self in expecting coaches to play a bigger game in the world. ‘Coaching is bigger than coaching’ he asserted as he exhorted us all to become more aware of broader changes going on in the world at large and the responsibility of coaches to bring these facts into the coaching conversation to shake up traditional business mind sets.
One listener asked John whether this was really in line with the coaching ethos of asking questions in order to help the coachee find their own answer from within themselves. To this question John gave an intriguing reply which I had not heard him use before (… and wished I’d have thought of myself for use in our own book!)
‘Its like someone has come to stay overnight with you and slept on the sofa downstairs’ he ventured ‘and you come down in the morning and ask them what they want for breakfast. This is a great question on one condition – that they are actually awake and not still sleeping. If they are still asleep then the question will be a waste of time and you are better off mimicking an alarm clock and giving them a gentle poke in the ribs to wake them up first. Once they are awake then you can ask the question again.’
Afterwards, I reflected that this was a brilliant analogy and wondered if this was the true meaning of giving someone a ‘wake up call’. Sometimes we all need a wake up call; we need an alarm clock to wake us up, to shift our consciousness to a raised level of alertness, awareness and receptivity. When a coach issues a challenge then this is what we are doing. It is not always necessary since sometimes our clients are already awake. Yet sometimes they are asleep; caught up in the fog of denial. Sometimes that denial is collective as well as personal. Can we recognise this and pierce the slumber skillfully? Can we be coaching alarm clocks?
Thank you Sir John Whitmore for waking me up again!