An unconference experience

What happens when we connect and discuss our challenges and opportunities in a place where there’s safety, freedom and no judgement.

A bit of a different post for me today. Sharing my summary from co-hosting an Unconference in Leicester just over a week ago for LnDConnect.

The Curve Theatre, Leicester with clear blue sky background
Image by Mark Gilroy

It was a beautiful sunny day at the Unconference last week and the Curve was a brilliant venue for us! Thank you to Mark Gilroy for his amazing photography beginning with this gorgeous one of the venue. read more

#cipdldshow – The Psychology of Coaching

My second session of the day is with Jeremy Snape from Sporting Edge @thesportingedge – ex England cricketer and now a sports psychologist – and holds the world record for the slowest bowler!

The CIPD use some of Jeremy’s models and approaches in their L&D qualification.

Jeremy’s big failure on the cricket pitch raised the question for him about what it is that means people thrive or fall in those situations when the pressure’s on.  This led him to study sports psychology at Loughborough Uni (great university! #biased!).  Reminds me of Kim Morgan’s piece for the #blogcarnival about the conditions needed for learning to occur.  In addition to psychology he’s spoken to neuroscientists to get a rounded view.

Jeremy sees the problem being that orgs think coaching is a ‘thing to do’ instead of seeing it as a ‘way of being’.  This is so so true.  Coaching is a mindset and a skill.  An art and a science.

So we can put a new skill into an org – e.g. to coach – but if stress levels rise then we’ll revert to our previous behaviours.  Neuroscience has shown that these 3 factors cause stress: novelty, uncertainty and uncontrollability.

When our perceived coping skills are in balance with the perceived challenge around us we work in flow and at our best.  But if the balance tips with challenge outweighing our perceived coping skills we go into threat state and we become stressed, fearful and our capacity for creativity and awareness of others decreases.

Jeremy showed a video of Matthew Pinsent from the gold medal winning race – the coach was working with what he could see and what the team were telling him directly.  The coach took Steve Redgrave to one side who was ‘staring down the barrel of the pressure of his 5th gold medal win’ and asked him to speak to James to help him feel OK because it was his first Olympic race.  The purpose wasn’t about James – James was fine – but it took Steve’s attention away from his own concerns and gave him something to keep occupied as they waited for the race.

Groups are now talking about:

  1. What was the coach’s mindset on the finals day?  2. What skills did he use?  3. What impact did it have?

1. Mindset – My job is to help my team perform at it’s best.  How can the most senior person take responsibility for the team?  How can they do that together without me being involved?  I’m not getting in the boat so how can I stay out of the boat / outside of the team to distance from the pressure and emotion of the situation?  > Usually when under pressure, leaders grab hold and control the living daylight out of things.  Being an effective coach requires you to take all emotional attachment off the outcome the team are going to achieve, or not.  Your work as a leader, developing your team should be done before it gets to any crunch points.

2. Skills – Getting the team to support each other.  It’s a few words or a question all the time – it’s not an end of year review approach when you bring out your coaching skills.

3. Impact – On James – it would have boosted and inspired him that he was being valued, that the most senior was giving something to him.  It also takes the emotional attachment for James away from the outcome, he encouraged him to focus on the process – focus on your stroke, focus on your rhythm.  It wouldn’t have had the same effect if Steve had said “come on, you can do this, we have to win this” – that just increases the emotion and pressure.

Video of a great dance coach – her view is that great coaches display : Extraordinary respect for detail, Inspiring for their passion, A core desire to see the person they’re coaching get better, Acknowledgement that it’s exhilarating for you as a coach to see others succeed, Allow others to discover for themselves, Calmness, Simplicity, Create the environment so the dancers learn for themselves.

Sharing a performance curve from research that shows the best results are achieved in a context of High Challenge and High Support.  The worst performance is when there’s High Challenge and Low Support – the environment when threat state is most highly triggered and people will shut down, they won’t experiment, they won’t be creative or find new solutions, they won’t say if they think a decision is missing critical information that they hold.  And people will leave – either physically or mentally.

Coaching is the root to achieving this because as a coach you believe in your coachee’s ability to learn and succeed for themselves, they talk as if the person’s already two steps of where they currently are, they feedback changes they’re observing in the coachee.

Empathy is the critical skill because you need to understand different needs and preferences, and as a coach you have to identify them and anticipate and work with those strengths and weakness, their sensitivities and preferences, and to their ability to handle challenge or provide extra support if that’s what they need at that time.  Don’t just sit down and start with the G of GROW.  Think about this person, what they prefer, what’s going on for them just now, what might they most need from me just now?  This is an intuitive place to operate from.  And you can ask them too – how are you today?  What do you most need from me in the conversation?  You don’t need to always guess.

Boris Becker video – notice the person, when they need to be in the gym, when they’re OK for a conversation – be on your toes the whole time and sense when the time is right to disrupt, to interfere, to make an observation.  Not a stale meeting – be in the moment, be aware, respond to the needs of your team.

Where’s the coaching in your org just now?  Structured and formal or Unstructured and informal?  Regular or Occasional?  Where do you want or need it to be?

Coaching Indian players and he’d wait for these informal moments to happen so that you drop questions at informal times – ask a question just before they’re about to get on a coach or plane so they can reflect on the journey.  Then ask them what they think at the end of the journey.

Video of Baroness Sue Campbell – you can’t change someone’s desire to succeed unless you create the environment – the coach isn’t the centre of attention.  You’re the enabler.  She had feedback years before – she was very “tell”, fast paced, she was in a show-off mode.  the person who’d fed back to her asked her “where are you when the game starts” – on the sidelines – “who’s in charge when the games happening” – the team – and “when do they get the chance to practice that skill if you’re always telling them” – oh.  You’ve got to help them do it for themselves and not take over.  Otherwise you create people who need constant spoon-feeding in the short term because they have no ability to figure things out and make decisions over complex situations that will create a successful business for the long term.

Respect the power of silence to let people think and do the inner work that they need to hear the question, process, reflect.  This is where the most powerful coaching moments happen.

Create the environment where failure is supported – otherwise people won’t try, they won’t stretch themselves out of their comfort zone.  Set experiments where people can fail safely and learn about the gaps they have in their abilities or knowledge.

Key points:

  • Empathy builds trust
  • Be a detective looking for clues of what to say when and how
  • Ask questions to increase awareness
  • Listening shows respect and allows synthesis
  • Balance challenge and support
  • read more

    Expectations in a Box

    Think of yourself at work and how it feels right now.

    If you imagine you’re in a box at work, what would that box be like?

    Are you in a roomy box with space to spread yourself out and change position?

    Are you cramped in a box that you feel you could burst out of any minute?

    Do you remember once feeling like you could burst out and now you feel like you’ve shrunk to fit inside?

    What about your team?  What are their boxes like?

    “The way you see people is the way you treat them, and the way you treat them is what they become.”

    Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


    Our brains are constantly scanning for danger, these days danger isn’t usually an animal that wants to eat us, it’s a threat to our self esteem, or our ego.  We’re raised in a world where being ‘right’ and ‘good’ are the things we’re meant to strive for*.  That’s what gets us praise, good school grades, a good job, a pay rise……stuff that boosts our self esteem and positively strokes our ego.  Interactions that make us feel like this are helpful to calm our fearful brain down which improves our thinking, helps us feel more abundant and generous towards ourselves and others, helps us become more creative by connecting dots.  This then leads to a growth in confidence and the desire to try more things, to push the boundaries, to come up with new ideas.  To coin the lyricist R Kelly, we believe we can fly! read more

    Some Guest Bloggage – including that mis-posted one!

    I’ve been really enjoying having some space to blog recently and I’ve written for a couple of people I guest blog for.

    This one for The HR Director magazine which is about how we can get stuck in our emotions and thoughts, and how we can move out of that place.

    And this one (the one I mis-posted a draft of the other week!) for Bray and Bray Solicitors about the challenging world of workplace relationships, and shifting those from the playground to an adult world.

    I hope you or someone you know finds them useful.

    This is me………

    WFS Tree

    Want a bit of advice?

    The other day Christopher Demers blogged about advice and consent in HR and the need for us to accept that our advice won’t always be taken on board, but that advising is our role. If you want to lead and run the business then go do that.

    Interestingly, the next day on the radio, I then heard thoughts about advice and that we’re inherently not very good at accepting it. We either hope it reaffirms what we already thought the answer should be, or we just plain ignore it! Look at all the ‘we told you this would happen…’ that’s going on around the flooding. Or, taking it to really old skool levels, Adam ignoring the advice from God not to eat the apple!

    And yet these days we’re surrounded by and actively pulling on sources of advice from online content all the time. So we clearly want it!

    So are we really happier and more likely to accept online advice than human?

    Could this be because it’s non-threatening coming from a phone/tablet/computer? It’s not judging us. It’s not going to affect any performance appraisals. It allows us the time to read, absorb, mull and then come to an informed conclusion.

    There’s neuroscience evidence – but of course we’ve known this for a long time anyway – that if you put a person in a situation to give them feedback (the potentially most extreme version of advice!) and the way you do it causes them to feel threatened, they’ll go into fight or flight – they certainly aren’t going to be hearing that ‘advice’. So maybe there is something in the non-threat angle of computer advice.

    But is this risky advice to take! How do you know what you find online is true? How can you trust it?

    There was a debate the other day with scientists worried about scientific research being posted online and commentable-on. Along the lines of ‘all sorts of people will be able to pass opinion or comment without being qualified to do so. But the people reading those comments won’t know that’.

    As human beings, trust and relationships are really important to us. And we will continue to need advice/opinions to grow and succeed. But as time progresses will we still be able to trust what we find online? Or will internet content be put in the advisory dog house? This could then see people return to human interactions to seek advice from trusted sources.

    If so, we’d better get practicing at making human advice much more hearable!

    Did you hear the one about……

    This will come as a surprise but during the festive season we had a day where we ate lots of food at someone’s house!!  How off the wall are we!!

    Anyway, as you’d expect, the prerequisite ‘lots of food’ had been bought and prepared by the host and, although we chipped in with some final bits of cooking / stirring / opening packets(!), the host had far and away done the lion’s share of the work.

    When we’d all eaten more than we ever should have done, us helpers thanked the host for such a lovely meal…..

    And this is where it all went wrong for me…….

    The immediate response was ‘No, not at all. Thank you all for your help.’

    It might seem innocuous, but it made me feel un-heard, as though my thanks weren’t valued.  And almost as though it was a competition to see who could be the most effusive with their thanks.  I know that wasn’t their intention – but of course the impact felt is so often not the impact intended.

    It’s rattled round my head for the last week or so, and has had me thinking about all those meetings that happen in work with line managers.  You know the ones –

    1. Line manager gives own example ‘nearly’ similar to what the colleague’s just described, because they think it’ll show they understand – colleague feels un-heard.

    2. Line manager has a regular catch-up meeting with one of their team where the colleague doesn’t quite get to the end of what they want to say because it’s sparked this ‘great’ idea for the line manager’s and they’ve started running with it – colleague feels un-heard.

    3. Colleague talks about something they’re proud of and line manager joins with a ‘That reminds me of when I…..’ – colleague feels un-heard.

    4. Line manager congratulates colleague on a great piece of work and colleague says ‘No, no, I didn’t really do anything. Bob did all the difficult bits’ – line manager feels un-heard.

    When I googled ‘really hearing someone’, I found lots of content about hearing impaired people and the challenges they have communicating with ‘hearing people’.

    It made me feel incredibly sad that, although so many of us are so lucky to have two fully functioning ears, we’re still really so incapable of making best use of them.

    And it also made me think about the power of coaching – of being a quiet coach – someone who allows a person to talk and to think and to really, truly be heard – not just by their coach but by themselves too.

    Listening is an incredible physical ability.

    Hearing is an incredible and powerful skill.

    I’m pretty sure we all could do more and better.

    And if you think you’re already great, just raise it back into your consciousness for a while, notice if that voice in your head is chattering away about what you’re going to say next, or about what else you need to be doing at this precise moment.  And ask yourself if what you’re going to say next is for your benefit or for their’s?


    I believe in people being the key to success and that success is unlocked by great bosses.  I’m an Executive Coach for SME leaders to help create success for you, for your team, for your business.

    If you believe in this stuff too, get in touch for a chat and let’s see what we could do together – 07718 316 616 or
    or take a look at my website to find out more.

    How many roots have you uncovered recently?

    I was listening to the radio on my way home the other night and heard about a great new approach to dealing with low to mid risk domestic violence offenders.  Rather than sending these people off to prison for a few months, the social work team had devised an 18 week programme for these people to be part of.  The purpose of the programme was to change behaviour, and help people manage their anger, essentially through a coaching approach.  I struggled with some of it, e.g. “imagine what you don’t want your child to say about you when they’re 18″ – rather than focussing on the positive and pre-supposing success.  But overall it sounded like an amazing approach and seemed to be working (only 3 re-offenders out of about 70 participants so far – far less than people who get put away).

    This story appealed to me because I’m a true, absolute, whole-hearted believer in dealing with root causes – not just putting a sticky plaster over something.

    And so the bit that had me shouting at the radio (it’s OK, I was on my own in the car!) was the interviewer saying to an offender – “don’t you think people listening to this will be angry that you haven’t been jailed?”


    I would be far happier if my taxes were going on this sort of scheme that raises self awareness and actually addresses the heart of the issue, instead of locking people up in hotels……. sorry, I mean prisons…..

    But this then also got me thinking about people at work, what we do, how we do it…….

    How many times have you seen a significant performance problem that hasn’t been addressed, that’s led to a breakdown in the relationship between the employee and their manager, perhaps moved into a grievance alleging their manager’s bullying them, that’s impacted the rest of the team because they’re compensating for someone else’s workload, that’s led to a lack of engagement and motivation in the team because they see that ‘somene’ apparently not being talked to about it……….where’s the root-cause solution of support and development for that line manager to lead their team to be great at their jobs, or to find a new job if this one isn’t helping them to be at their best.

    How many times have you seen a flaw in a process or system that’s causing employees to do a ‘bad’ job for their internal or external customers because the problem’s been sticky-plastered for years……..where’s the root-cause solution of clearing away the blockages and barriers to get these basics right and help work to feel like one majorly better place to be.

    How many times have you seen a leader fire fighting, drowning in work, frantically trying to get everything done that their boss is demanding, on a downward spiral of over-work and stress, making them less effective in everything they do, firmly stuck in operator/manager mode……..where’s the root-cause solution of leadership development to enable that person to set the vision for their team, to get the team excited so delegation isn’t a task, so that people are pulling to be part of it, to coach their team in how they’re going to get there – together!

    We have a hugely important role in HR – we can influence all of this, and help release an incredible volume of untapped potential in people every day.  But only if we’re curious, inquisitive and caring enough to dig deeper than the surface problems and challenges we see, to uncover the true root of the issue.  And to then be part of the root-cause solution that fundamentally moves people to a stronger, better place where they can flourish.