by Sherry Engel
I’ve struggled the last month or so to write a blog entry, trying to find that topic that “hits home”. I want to blog about things that are truly important and meaningful to me. This weekend, through my own personal journey of growth in my faith, I discovered a great correlation between my personal journey for knowledge and the journey of those I help in corporate America..
I’ve been on a mission to learn and grow spiritually. I’ve been completing all of the “normal” learning activities….listening to teachings, reading, etc. However, as I reflect on my journey for knowledge, I find what has provided the most value for me are the discussions and sharing I have with my personal mentor. So why is it that a mentor carries so much value in my spiritual growth and how can we correlate that with learning in Corporate America?
Here’s what I’ve found:
My mentor is someone….
- I trust won’t “think I’m stupid”, when I “ask the stupid question”
- I can bounce my ideas off of
- Who’s further along in their level of knowledge, so helps me to “stretch” to their level
- I can share the joy of my newfound learning with
- Who can encourage me when I feel like “I just can’t do it”
- Who helps me to personalize my learnings to my specific situation
Look at those! Wouldn’t it be great if we had a personal mentor in all aspects of our life?
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By Dawn Francis, Ed.D.
Years ago, I read a novel entitled Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. There was a passage in the book that struck me so poignantly that I copied it down and committed it to memory. It read:
“I was looking for myself and asking everyone except myself questions which I, and only I, could answer.”
This quote came to mind for me today as I was reading a different book on the topic of coaching. It made the point that all information resides with the coachee. The coachee is truly the only person who has the answers. A skillful coach recognizes this fact. A skillful coach helps coachees critically probe their habits of mind. A skillful coach leads coachees to their own answers by applying powerful questioning techniques.
Several of these techniques appear in the aforementioned coaching text, which is entitled Coaching Questions: A Coach’s Guide to Powerful Asking Skills by Tony Stoltzfus. If you are a manager with coaching responsibilities, or if you often engage in peer coaching with your colleagues, you may want to increase your ability to ask coaching questions. Here is a brief summary of a few of Stoltzfus’ recommendations:
- Ask open questions (e.g., “What options do you have?”) versus closed ones (e.g., “Do you have other options?”)
- Pose “what” questions instead of “why” questions, which can appear judgmental (e.g., “Why can’t you ask for the sale?” to “Why do you need in order to ask for the sale?”)
- Feel empowered to challenge goals that appear too small (e.g., “What if you set out to accomplish that goal in two years instead of five?”)
- Avoid searching for the perfect question; instead, ask coachees to reflect more deeply on something significant that they have already mentioned (e.g., “What is behind that?”)
Remember to keep Ellison’s quote in mind the next time you engage in a coaching conversation with a direct report or peer. Allow the coachee to discover his/her own answers. Help the coachee discover that these answers lie within, as Ellison says, and that you are there to help unearth them.
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by Dawn Francis, Ed.D.
Coaching is one of my favorite topics to research and discuss. That might surprise you since I’ve written the majority of my blog entries on transformative learning; however, there’s a distinct synergy between the two. Think of coaching as an enabler of the transformative learning process. Coaching can be a catalyst for personal perspective transformation.
Yet, the focus here is firmly on coaching—more specifically, the coach. My manager asked me yesterday to share my opinion on why some individuals don’t make effective coaches. I cited the propensity some people have to “tell” versus “ask.” Some coaches struggle with asking powerful and probing questions. But these were my opinions based upon my study of the topic and experience as a coach; I wanted more time to chew on his question some more and synthesize my thoughts.
In the end, as I look across the literature on coaching and recount my own personal experience, I’d have to say that it appears to boil down to the coach’s approach to the coaching relationship.
Approach 1: If the coach approaches the relationship intent on addressing the coachee’s gaps or weaknesses, then problem-solving becomes the main goal of the coaching interaction. The relationship is built on addressing the coachee’s problems or deficiencies.
Approach 2: If the coach approaches the relationship intent on having the coachee reference past achievements and capitalize on key strengths to achieve a vision for success, then positive change becomes the main goal of the coaching interaction. The relationship is built on positive exploration in service of meaningful change.
What approach is more motivating and inspiring? What approach is more likely to lead to sustained change?
The second—and more positive—approach to coaching appears to be more effective in eliciting individual and organizational change. The evidence is well presented in the text Appreciative Coaching: A Positive Process for Change. Its authors are scholars and experienced consultants in the area of organizational development who have built a coaching model on the core precepts of Appreciative Inquiry. As one of the authors aptly states, “We get more of what we focus on.” Therefore, it would stand to reason: Focus on problems, get more of them. Focus on positives, get more of them.
So, to answer my manager’s question, which is what provoked this blog entry in the first place: Effective coaches are ones that adopt an appreciative approach to change and coach to possibility instead of deficiency.
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