CASE STUDY WALKING AND TALKING AS A THOUGHTFUL SHERPA
In this post I reflect upon my experience as a Coach, using a real-life case study. As a Coach I engage in training and continuing education pursuing and maintaining ICF (International Coach Federation) credentials. All coaching conversations are confidential and the abbreviated case above has been amended so as to protect the anonymity for the client whilst providing evidence of coaching practice, reflection and learning, for the purposes of ICF education, supervision, or oversight.
The client as an entrepreneur was reflecting on his ‘self’ and his patterns and how these affected his life, his work, his passions and interests. The client is very successful but prone to periods of positive creativity and production followed by periods where energy and mood may be low.
The coaching sessions were an exploration of the inter-connectedness of personal-life and professional-life and also the past, present and future, with a view to better understanding of self, motivation, patters and exploring goals and habits and which are most helpful to growth and progress.
The is an anonymised and generalised summary of a series of coaching sessions over time.
As an initiator to the face-to-face coaching sessions the client undertook some self authoring. Writing about past, present and future and highlighting key events that have shaped their thoughts, feeling and beliefs and the path of their journey provided a number of topics from which the client could select, reflect upon and share in discussion.
The face-to-face coaching sessions were generally in the form of a conversation when walking. The outdoors can be liberating to the mind and body and the somatic process of walking can be kinaesthetic and keep people in touch with their feelings, as opposed to across a table thinking cognitively in what at times might otherwise feel like an interview rather than coaching.
The outdoors also provides plenty of metaphors for unconscious thought to explore and manifest by observation, description and analogy. Talking about life, people circumstances as fish, waves, water or the journey as a path, beach, fields or the circumstances as bright, cloudy or clear provides a richness and safety in dialogue (by talking about abstract concepts without the risk or burden of reality).
By talking in metaphors we can talk cognitively about relationships, events, patterns, thoughts and feelings without the emotional charge that could encroach or constrain if we talk about reality. This allows mature reasoned thinking without the defensive distortions that can sometimes happen when issues are personalised or personified.
This is not to lessen or disregard the reality, but to explore ideas in psychological safety (and sometimes in anonymity) as concepts before applying them to reality, and adapting them to become useful tools, habits and practices. This allows consideration of new perspectives and approaches which can be throughly examined, thought and felt before bringting them into contact with reality and ‘ how could you do that in your life ‘.
The client is a very intelligent and deeply thoughtful person and coaching session are generally not problem, process, solution formulations but a thinking space for them to consider their purpose, process, priorities and plans.
In a nod to the GROW model, and to ensure outputs and outcomes the coaching conversations conclude with 1. what has been most useful 2. what will you put into practice and 3. when will you do this and often 4. what from our conversation would you like to explore further. However in contrast to the GROW model the outcome is not prescribed at the beginning but discovred in the journey.
REFLECTIONS ON APPROACH
I have enjoyed both the client and this approach, perhaps because both reflect my thinking and feeling values and an interest in exploration rather than overly hasty solutions. The client seems to valute the approach as evidenced by the thanks and feedback, but also the enthusiasm to continue the approach.
There are downsides, the coaching sessions tend to be deeply thoughtful and quite long, sometimes a walk can be between 1 hour or 1.5 hours, which may not suit many clients, but the client as an entrepreneur considers these an investment in himself and his business since the two are clearly linked in terms of value, identity and productivity.
REFLECTIONS ON CONTENT
I have found it really interesting (but not surprising) the linkages, patterns and influences of home, life, work and the path of past, present and future and it seems to me that in looking after the client as a whole person oe must explore all the elements of the thinking, feeling, being person (according to the clients interests and willingness to be open).
REFLECTIONS ON RELATIONSHIP
I like this client, but am always cautious and conscious not to become a friend at the expense of being a helpful coach. The aim is to follow the clients thinking and then deepen with challenge and questions. The client will think, reflect and offer their conclusions (and possibly justifications) but this is always preferable to any prescription by me. The judgement and choices must come from the client, even if the inquiry comes from me. I am therefore agnostic, impartial although curious and so the partnership is more akin to a sherpa helping the mountain leader than a guide cutting a path through the jungle: I follow with thoughtful questions rather than lead with intent.
FEEDBACK FROM THE CLIENT
I’m very happy with the write up. In fact I’d probably be happy with a named testimonial.
The other thing you could do is add this paragraph.
“In keeping with my usual mode of working with clients with respect to publishing material, I showed the above text to the client before publishing here. Not only did he give consent to publish but he added the following two paragraph of his own.
“Working with Tim, as my ‘Sherpa’ for the next pitch of this increasingly exciting mountain range, has been a brilliant decision. I tend to think I am quite difficult to coach, as I ‘know too much’ about coaching and leadership development – which often gets in the way of the process of turning that process back on myself. I find I am too intrigued at understanding the coach’s technique to engage with the process at surface level.
One of the great things about working with Tim has been his ease at taking the conversation to the meta-level, of why the present question is a useful one, and even meta to that of why I find it especially interesting, before diving back into the ground level of the discussion at face value. This ease with the layers of meaning, alongside a properly challenging presence to guide the conversation back to the agreed purpose has made the work much more enjoyable and sustainable.
Thank you Tim, looking forward to our next view from the mountain top.”