By Jean Marie Johnson
Covered in Darkness
Here in the northeastern United States, the winter of 2003 was wicked. Mother Nature reigned supreme with pre-Thanksgiving snow lingering to mid-April. As the spring thaw made its way timidly across the frozen earth, my usual spring zeal was abruptly halted. Harbingers of warmth - the first blooms of periwinkle, crocus, and daffodil - were nowhere to be seen. Clearly, I needed to observe more closely.
What had been fabulous fall foliage now lay as a thick carpet of wet, decomposing leaves. Yuck! The snow arrived so early and persisted so relentlessly that we didn't have time to rake leaves. And now, what a mess! Determined to uncover my prized blooms (surely they're under there somewhere), I began to poke at the soggy leaf cover. Making a dent, I then began to lift off whole sections of it. And, sure enough, there were a few hearty blooms. I imagined them "grateful" for the rescue from their dark, stifling environment. They now had access to light, circulating air, and the opportunity to grow unrestricted.
Exposure to Light
A gardener's first responsibility is to create an environment where living matter can grow unrestricted. Rake in hand, I began to think about how well we as coaches create environments where people can grow unrestricted - where we support others in the process of releasing their potential.
Our first opportunity is in the coaching relationship itself. We find, however, that too much 'muck and yuck' often gets in the way. According to participants in our coaching workshops, factors that often influence the coaching relationship include:
- The coach's fear of not being liked
- The coach's difficulty with holding people accountable
- The coach operates as a task master with no focus on relationship
- The coach and the direct report competed for the position the coach now holds
- The coach and the direct report have very different communication styles
- The coach and the direct report have an unresolved conflict that has not been addressed
And on and on. Coaching sessions where these issues go unaddressed feel hollow. They're more like "going through the motions" and less like actually creating learning.
Do you know the feeling?
If so, ask yourself the following questions that will help recognize situations that can be improved:
- Which of my coaching relationships just aren't working?
- What are the issues as I see them?
- What part have I played in these issues?
Asking these questions may uncover gaps in your coaching relationships that you would like to close. Still, you must realize that developing and sustaining effective coaching relationships begins with choice, follows with action, and sustains itself with commitment.
A second set of questions then follows:
Do I choose to engage rich, robust coaching relationships that help my colleagues to both improve short-term performance and develop their overall skills sets and potential?
What will I do to create these relationships, and what may I need to do differently to enrich the relationships and learning?
To build learning and relationships over the long-term, to which sustained courses of action must I commit, and with whom?
You may find that, just by asking these questions, you shed light on the answers and create an environment that supports growth. And if you find yourself still in the dark, consider seeking out coaching...
Jean Marie Johnson is a Communico facilitator and has helped clients with their MAGIC initiatives. And for 20 years she has specialized in cultivating the customer experience as a key competitive advantage.