How can we bring wacky, right brain coaching tools and concepts into the mechanical, left brain world of business? This was the question I was left pondering after Ian and I delivered our first one day master class on challenging coaching for the Academy of Executive Coaching in London. For as the day progressed this challenge emerged as a dominant theme for the twenty experienced coaches and HR professionals that had gathered together to explore the edge of their own coaching.
What triggered these outcomes compared to shorter conference workshops we have delivered was that we had the opportunity to work with more challenging exercises and concepts from the FACTS coaching model in more detail. For example for the courageous goals component of FACTS Ian challenged the participants to ‘walk the line’. This exercise involved working in trios to coach one person on their courageous goal. An imaginary timeline was mapped out on the floor and the coachee was transported into the future by physically walking to a point where their courageous goal had been achieved. From that perspective they could then imagine talking to their younger self back at the start of the timeline to convey advice and observations. It is a powerful exercise using the physical space as a resource to create new perspectives for the coachee.
During the systems thinking piece of FACTS we had a lively discussion about the concepts of suboptimisation, emergence and fractals. All of these are featured in chapter 8 of our book but it added another dimension to discuss these in a group. I was very energised by the insights and curiosity the participants had for these more radical and adventurous ideas.
Clearly, there are many like-minded people operating in organisational life who see the potential to introduce creative ideas and techniques to help unlock potential and drive performance. However, one of the participants wryly remarked that in many organisations you are expected to park your right brain at the reception desk and only bring your more rational, linear and risk-averse left brain to the business table. Many commented how difficult it would be to introduce the timeline exercise or the systems thinking ideas to their colleagues and teams for fear that they would be ridiculed and dismissed out of hand.
As the master class drew to a close we were left recognising that challenging coaching requires courage to implement and pursue in many organisational settings. It can be a lonely task flying the flag for these approaches, swimming against the tide and challenging the status quo. Yet we had also shared a glimpse into adventurous possibilities and exciting frontiers of learning that wait to be further explored and developed.
Frankly, I was exhausted at the end of the day yet also quietly optimistic and reassured. Ian and I had stepped up to a new edge in our own work and I felt the twenty people in that room were committed to doing exactly the same in the days and weeks ahead. As Ray Bradbury, the American writer, said ‘If we listened to our intellect, we’d never have a love affair. We’d never have a friendship. We’d never go into business, because we’d be cynical. Well, that’s nonsense. You’ve got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down.’
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