I have been coaching for over 15 years now and have clocked over 2500 hours of coaching. I have yet to find a pattern in leadership coaching that creates what is an aha moment. There is often a trigger for change in each coaching session with a client but I haven’t yet identified what creates the breakthrough in coaching that enables transformation for the client. This is not to say that transformation or change doesn’t happen in coaching! But what creates it is different in each coaching engagement and with each client.
I was in an executive coaching engagement a few years back and was coaching a woman leader who was the Functional head of a services company. The mandate was that she needed to be developed as a Coach to coach and mentor younger women in the organization. The end goal was to retain and engage women in the work-place. We had 4-5 sessions where we looked at coaching and together we expanded her understanding of coaching. The client was responding very positively and the sessions went on fine. She asked me to sit into one coaching session as an observer while she was coaching one of the women managers. This was part of the Observed Coaching part of the intervention. Permission was taken and the coaching session started. The lady who was being coached shared her dilemma about her inability to conceive and how that was impacting her at work. This was obviously a sensitive issue and there were layers of emotions that merged in the conversation. My client (let’s call her Shabnam) asked her “What are the options that come to your mind”? The answer was going in for IVF or waiting for some more time. At this point, I noticed that Shabnam was getting restless. “What about adoption?” she inquired. The lady answered, “No, I am not considering this.” “Why not? Do you know that when you adopt, you are saving a life?”. The lady didn’t seem convinced. At this point, I thought Shabnam would back out. But for some odd reason, she persisted in talking about the merits of adoption even to the extent of suggesting that she would send her some material. The conversation soon ended in an awkward note.
When Shabnam and I sat for a debrief soon, Shabnam was still agitated. I asked her a simple question, “What happened out there”? Shabnam burst out about how people have weird notions about adoption and how much misconception is there on the same. I allowed her to speak and after some pause again asked her “What really is happening?” Shabnam was quiet for some time and then said” I am an adopted child. I know how my life changed after I was adopted. I feel very strongly about this.” The conversation that we had after that was an ‘aha’ moment, not just for Shabnam but also for me as a leadership coach in India. We explored how we as Coaches get colored by our own life experiences and we bring these into the coaching conversation irrespective of whether this is of value to the coachee in her context. As a coach, we do not influence a coachee’s decision or thoughts especially then they seem to have a game plan. No matter how right or wrong the decision seems to be, it’s their decision as it is their life. Our role as a Coach is to clarify their thinking, work with them on options that seem right for them, let them take accountability for their choices. Of course, we can share other options as an observation or on request, but we don’t lead with our choices.
This incident and conversation certainly changed the way Shabnam now approaches Business Coaching. It also changed something in me. I began to see the unconscious biases I carried into my coaching born out of what my mind and experiences said were the “right things” to do by my client. Of course, as Coaches, we are trained in not offering our suggestions to the client outright but the monkey mind continues to think and pass judgements! That’s why the practice of mindfulness and creating awareness before a coaching session is so helpful for a coach.