What is coaching? And how can it help your charity work?
I believe that my clients are creative, resourceful and whole: so much more able and brilliant than they believe.
The term ‘coaching’ is used a lot, often incorrectly when people mean mentoring, but what is it exactly and how can it help busy professionals?
Sarah is a CEO in the voluntary sector who was finding her job particularly challenging when we first began our work together. She was facing the many problems typical in a middle-sized charity and, despite support from her Trustees, her resilience and confidence was very low.
We looked in depth at the various issues, her perception of them and what she could do in each situation. We also looked at how her thinking was, at times, getting in her own way and how she could look at challenges from different angles in order to address them more creatively.
By the time we concluded our work, Sarah was able to take the major decisions for her charity that had seemed insurmountable and with a far greater reserve of confidence.
“It has been a transformational journey,” she said. “I trust myself more… my thinking has become more constructive and I am able to consider challenges and approach them in a more productive manner.”
Most people don’t know what coaching is. But those who have experienced it say that a coaching session is the only time in the busyness when they can stop and think – a moment when they can drop their shoulders and figure out what they really want.
So, what is coaching?
Coaching is a partnering. A coach isn’t an expert with answers to your challenges – we hold a strong view that you are more than capable of finding those solutions yourself – but the coach brings a process and holds a safe space to enable you to figure out the changes you want in your life.
Coaching is always focused on the future. It’s about looking to where you want to go – applying for that promotion, nailing that challenging project, addressing those issues with your team, having that difficult conversation at home. It’s then about how to get there – and, along the way, learning about yourself so that the changes are sustainable and you have tools, resources and strategies to use long after the coaching is finished.
As John said, “Although it’s been a few years since our last coaching sessions, I still use the learning from this many years later.”
With coaching you find confidence, self-belief and your voice. Amy is a primary school teacher in her thirties, who was unhappy and very unsure whether to stay in her job despite the challenges, or find another position elsewhere. Given the timing of recruitment in schools, there was some urgency for her to make a decision when we started working together and in total we only needed four sessions.
During those sessions, Amy was able to untangle what the issues really were at work, what she wanted from her job instead, as well as to reconnect with what she was good at and what she loved about being a teacher.
As a result of our work together Amy decided to have some important discussions with her Head Teacher that she had been avoiding, had two successful interviews for both an internal and an external position and made the decision to accept the new role at her current school.
“My confidence in my own ability has increased,” she said. “I particularly benefitted from the way you prepared me for interviews. Having the opportunity to talk about myself as a teacher showed me that I have a wealth of experience and many achievements to celebrate. Going forward, I feel re-aligned with my core values.”
The power of being truly heard
What do I do as a coach? I listen: to what you’re saying – and not saying. Simply being heard is amazingly powerful. I play back to you the essence of what I’ve heard and you hear your words anew. It’s called active listening and it’s like being able to hear yourself in a mirror.
Coaching helps you to think about your situation from different angles. I ask questions, not because I want the detail of the issue as a friend would, but to help you think about your thinking. To broaden the possibilities that maybe you’re closing down without even realising it.
Coaching isn’t therapy but it can be therapeutic and I do have counselling skills. The experience of talking to another person in a safe and confidential space can bring up emotions and issues lying beneath the surface. It’s your opportunity, if you want it, to look at what you’re avoiding, let in the light, so that you can move on in your life and work.
And there is no judgment. We tell ourselves stories without realising it most of the time. I hear them and support you to see different options and possibilities. Coaching allows you to be vulnerable so that you can become stronger.
Melanie began working with me when she had just started working as a senior manager for a charity and had disclosed to her employers, for the first time ever, that she had a hidden disability. She was worried about being so open about something she had managed to hide for many years and wanted support as she navigated her new reality.
The coaching helped her understand the baggage she had been carrying all her life and how it had created significant anxiety and held her back professionally. It wasn’t long before Melanie realised the extent to which her feelings about her disability had huge power over her and she was able to rewrite a new, empowering narrative. What emerged was her passion and ambition to develop her career and aim far higher than she had ever imagined.
“I feel a lot less worried and anxious in stressful work situations,” she said. “I feel like I have reclaimed my feelings. I’m more open about my disability and can see that the shame and blame I felt round it was linked to my feeling of anxiety and self-doubt. I generally feel a lot happier in my work life and now feel ready to push myself forward for opportunities that I want.
“I am giving myself time to process how I’m feeling and not just following my default behaviour of panic and blame. I’m breaking a negative cycle of behaviour… I’m going to embrace the playing bigger mentality.”
Coaching is a gift
You start the work just by turning up to the first session. That’s the gift you’ve given yourself: the chance to be the best, the most resilient, the happiest that you can be and it starts by committing to the work.
I believe that my clients are creative, resourceful and whole: so much more able and brilliant than they believe. And coaching is this amazing ‘thing’ that enables them to truly embrace that.
Lucinda Shaw is a warm and perceptive Coach, whose interest in encouraging people to develop themselves and learn has been honed during a 30-year career as a senior leader in the voluntary sector, during which she’s held a range of transformational, strategic and high-level fundraising roles across the sector. Lucinda is a consultant with the Stroke Association and a faculty member of The Leadership Trust, where she is a coach-facilitator on its week-long flagship course Leadership in Management.