The coaching compulsion
During my financial services career, I learnt that our emotional relationship with money is the underlying cause of many financial problems. I experienced this in a personal financial crisis, which had its roots in my fear and greed around money. Admitting personal incompetence with money in the financial services industry was frowned upon, and with no-one to talk to I benefited from the experience of sorting out my own life and money, in which self-awareness played a significant part.
Often, my clients found themselves in similar situations and appreciated the more humanistic approach to money that I had discovered. I learnt simple coaching techniques to help my clients develop their relationships with money and lead fulfilled authentic lives. In doing so, I found coaching had a more significant impact than financial advice. Eventually, I relinquished my financial services permissions and enrolled on the Barefoot Programme to gain a greater understanding of the theory and practice of coaching.
This assignment describes my key Barefoot Programme learnings and how I discovered them. I relate how I apply these insights to my practice and my plans for further development. Specifically, I cover:
- Myself as coach
- Questions and answers
- Relationship and trust
- Tools and techniques
- Psychotherapeutic background and neuroscience advances
I conclude by assessing how I have changed cognitively, behaviourally and in my mindset as a result of the Barefoot Programme and related practice and research.
Myself as coach
My most important discovery from the Barefoot Programme is that I, as a coach, am an integral part of the solution to my client’s problems. This approach is in stark contrast to my financial services career, in which my role was that of a conduit and facilitator of solutions imposed on clients.
The coaching role
During the Barefoot Programme, we discussed the role of the coach. Coaching is concerned with transformation through a coachee’s learning and growth, not through teaching and direction (Parsloe 1995; Whitmore 2010). Coaches work with individuals to think their way out of problems, particularly by increasing their self-awareness (Gallwey 1974).
However, coachees induce feelings, ideas and reactions in me that I can use. These feelings may not necessarily be the same as those the coachee is expressing outwardly. In psychotherapeutic terms, this is countertransference. The coach experiences the coachee’s emotions as their own, which increases the coach’s awareness or understanding of the coachee (Heimann 2018; Little 2018). Gestalt practitioners term this concept ‘use of self’. I can be of use to the client by sharing my experience to help them gain personal awareness.
My coachee Christine described her work to me. Her words seemed fulsome and detailed. However, I picked up a sense of a rote answer to my inquiry and a feeling that boredom and lack of interest lay behind her words. I shared my impressions with Christine, who saw that she was overwhelmed by her work and felt despondent at not being able to focus on specific tasks. With this increased self-awareness, Christine was able to take steps with her employer to change her role at work.
I learnt from Christine and others that my role as a coach includes being a receiver of the hidden or disguised feelings transmitted, often unconsciously, by my coachees. I came to understand that my self-awareness must be sufficient to enable me to differentiate my coachee’s feelings from my own and use these insights for the benefit of my coachee with authenticity and integrity. To do so, I need to see myself for who I am through the practice of self-reflection.
Coming from a City (and Services) background, self-reflection was never high on my agenda. However, this had begun to change before the Barefoot Programme through my work with a therapist.
I find the ‘What, so what, what now?’ approach (Boud, Keogh, & Walker, 1985) used on the Barefoot Programme to be a helpful method of self-reflection. However, I also favour adding an Appreciative Inquiry overlay, which emphasises building on what works rather than correcting what doesn’t work (Appreciative Inquiry Commons 2016 and Appendix 1). In conjunction with a self-assessment of the ICF core competencies, I have developed my post-coaching reflective checklist (Appendix 2) which includes this AI overlay.
As a result of my self-reflection and feedback, I have become aware that, despite my training, research, a record of success and positive feedback from peers and coachees I still experience concern about my coaching abilities. For instance, after a session with Joanne, I wrote in my Personal Learning Journal that ‘I felt anxiety at the way I initially approached the client’s issues’. Commonly termed Imposter Syndrome, this leads individuals to avoid taking credit for their successes, often handing the credit to others (Watts & Morgan 2015).
To counter this negativity, I have written my life story using the Rising Strong method (Brown 2015 and Appendix 3). This piece of writing describes my mistakes with honesty and self-compassion and credits me with my successes where appropriate. When I doubt myself, I re-read the story, a form of self-reflection that reasserts my perspective and awareness of myself.
Ask, don’t tell
As I re-read my life story, I become conscious of the fact that it describes a person with a high degree of resilience and capability for solving their problems. It tells of someone who is resourceful and rarely seeks advice. I do not claim these characteristics as unique to me; instead, they illustrate the views of practitioners such as Gallway (1974), Egan (2013), Rogers (2016) and others who believe in the abilities of individuals to solve their problems through their learning and growth.
Explicitly, the Barefoot Programme has taught me the power of asking questions to help my coachees gain a similar experience of self-managed problem-solving through personal insights and learning, and the disadvantages of a directive or advisory approach.
To counter my tendency to advice and direction, I adopted Gallway’s (1974) principle that being an expert is a disadvantage. I concentrated instead on asking questions to develop my coachee’s self-awareness and manage their self-beliefs.
Rogers (2016) provides a useful guide to questions and suggests that coaches avoid closed questions and questions formed from their agenda that precursor advice. ‘Why’ questions, technical questions and questions about other people are informative but not useful. Conversely, questions that seek to increase the coachee’s self-awareness are valuable.
When Clare sought help with an issue around her finances, I provided her with space and triggers to encourage her to be open. I stayed with the not knowing (Egan 2013) and asked more questions, taking her beyond her presenting issue. As a result, Clare arrived at a broader range of options to consider.
I noted in my Personal Learning Journal that there were times when I was close to telling Clare what to do. Instead, I asked questions to get to the heart of her issue, the options available, actions already taken and the pitfalls of doing nothing. I used more open-ended questions rather than closed questions. I was struck by Clare’s often insightful and involved responses to my questions which eventually led to her finding a solution to her problems.
I reflected that Gallwey (1974) anticipated this when he wrote that ‘The coach’s questions are geared to finding out information not for the purpose of recommending solutions, but for the purpose of helping clients think for themselves and find their own solutions’.
Rogers (2016) is clear that providing advice tends to alienate rather than re-assure and suggests that if I insist the coachee will resist. In Roger’s view, giving guidance or direction does little to establish a sound basis of trust with the coachee.
In this regard, I recognise my habit of leading the clients and imposing solutions based on my views. This trait arises from my financial services background in which the highly directive approach, verging on sales rather than advice, was typical.
During a Barefoot Programme coaching practice, my observer wrote: ‘Don’t make assumptions and avoid leading. The decision should be the client’s choice, not yours. Watch out!’
I learnt a powerful lesson from these encounters and now consciously avoid suggesting solutions. Instead, I am learning to ask questions that increase my coachee’s self-awareness, so they find their answers without direction.
Relationship and trust
Rogers (2012) sees coaching as an exercise in relations and trust and emphasises the importance of the three core conditions of congruence, empathy and unconditional positive regard for clients.
In the early part of my financial services career, I tended to see my client’s money as the client rather than the person. My approach was changing before the Barefoot Programme. However, the Programme provided a far more profound understanding and appreciation of the importance of my relationship with my coachee, which I have covered in detail in my assignment for Module IS7 118.
Tools and techniques.
I now have many tools and methodologies at my disposal; whilst these are important and useful, the real benefit comes from the growing confidence it gives me to call myself – and act as – a life coach, not a financial planner.
A crucial part of my development plan is to increase my repertoire of, and competence with, questions and techniques. My development in these areas will involve returning to the Barefoot session handouts, working out which I am happy with, practising with volunteer clients and bringing them to fee-paying clients.
Psychotherapeutic background and neuroscience advances
During the Barefoot Programme and subsequent reading, I gained a greater understanding of the psychotherapeutic influences on coaching, and I have begun to appreciate their importance. As part of my continuing personal development, I plan to continue my exploration of these practices and apply them to my coaching as appropriate. I have also gained a basic understanding of the neuroscience surrounding human behaviour, and this is an area with which I propose to become more familiar.
In studying these disciplines, I also seek to gain a better understanding of the connections between the ‘spiritual’ and scientific approaches to human behaviour and how their conflicting or complementary approaches can develop my coaching.
The Barefoot Programme created tensions and conflicts within me between my pre-Programme approach and the professional, research and practice-based approach of the Barefoot Programme. However, I have used this tension constructively to develop my coaching skills. Importantly, the Barefoot Programme helped me to make the change in my mindset from that of a financial life planner of many years doing a little bit of coaching to a mindset in which I see myself as a professional coach. I had been struggling with this challenge for some time.
The Programme has increased my awareness of coaching processes, skills and methodologies significantly. Although I argue in my Module IS7 118 assignment that the relationship I build with my coachees is more important than the techniques, the foundational understanding and familiarity with coaching methods will enable me to provide a better and more effective service to my coachees in the future. I also recognise that the Barefoot Programme and these assignments are only the beginnings of the learning process. To this end, one of my key objectives will be to build connections with peers, attend conferences and workshops and become more integrated into the coaching community to learn from my peers and, in time, add to the sum of knowledge that supports my work and that of my peers.