Dr. DK Busts the Encourager
After a difficult conversation with a coach-in-training about her struggles with Leading From Behind, I was delighted when she identified a way she could manage her "wise professor" persona when she coached others. "This is a fantastic idea, DK! I really think..."
"Stop, stop, that's it!" she blurted. "Right there. Just what you did. That's what I do with my coachees! Thank you for showing me how derailing it is."
"What did I do?" I was confused and defensive. "I just confirmed what a great idea you had. You seemed really excited. I am excited for you."
"Why didn't you just say that? Instead, you judged my idea."
Irritation amped up my defensiveness. "I did not judge you. I think it's a great idea--I was not critical."
"Thinking it is a great idea is a judgment. When you cheerlead some ideas and not others," DK insisted, "I find myself trying to figure out what to say to get more of your approval."
She was on to something. I thought my encouragement would, well, encourage her to think of more ideas, and instead, it stopped the flow. It reinforced a student/teacher dynamic, that there really is a "right answer," and that the teacher's job is to guide the student's discovery of it. When they do, rah rah rah! It was the very thing DK was trying to unlearn in her own coaching.
"What would have been better for me to say?" I timidly asked the professor.
"Just notice my excitement, ask about it, ask me how I would rate my idea. Then I can stay with my own thoughts, dig deeper for more ideas, and not have to focus on your thoughts and feelings. I could stay on my track."
Lesson learned. My way of being--my Encourager--was in the way. I wanted her to feel supported, but not as much as I wanted to be thought of as a supportive, uplifting, encouraging person. I like holding that idea of myself. People usually like that about me. And I wanted her to like me, even more than I wanted her to grow. Ugh. Those lightbulb moments can feel pretty dark.
Psychotherapist C.J. Jung believed that if therapist and client are not both changed in the process of working together, something didn't work. That is a noble notion, in theory--for the coach to be transformed by the coachee. In practice, the ego must be humbled for the heart to enlarge.
It takes heart more than skill to get your ego positioned as a true equal, a fellow discoverer, in the coaching alliance. We can get out in front in a million well-intentioned ways, and often without being aware of our motives. When Lead From Behind coaching happens, however, both souls sing.
Copyright © 2013 by Lynn Schoener