Inside the Leadership Coaching Experience - How Reframing Changed My Life
If you are fortunate to be in a coaching relationship, you know that it is a unique experience, where awareness and learning meet. Some of you may be curious about coaching or considering it as a growth opportunity. I’ve been asked many times, “what does coaching actually look like?” Every coaching engagement is unique and bears different fruit. Here is a quick view inside my own coaching experience, as a client, long before I ever became a coach myself.
Working with a coach has allowed me to break out of boxes of my own creation, reframing what feel like insurmountable challenges into opportunities to transform.
Reframing is one of the most effective coaching tools. When faced with adversity, a client may feel powerless or without options, (“things are happening to me”.) A solution or next step may seem out of reach and feelings of helplessness or a victim mentality can take hold. A coach will ask provocative questions that test this victim (or fixed) mindset and in doing so, will provide space, lifting the client’s perspective to new elevations (think “bird’s eye view”) so they can see a path forward. This shift allows a client to move from a place of victimhood to a place of opportunity, agency and action. (For a deeper dive on this, see 4 Ways of Leading from the book, The 15 Commitments to Conscious Leadership, Chapman, Dethmer, Klemp.)
Over the years, I have had countless reframing conversations with my coach. One of these conversations changed my life forever.
The scenario: I was a team leader preparing for a big promotion when I encountered a management challenge that I had never experienced before. A rogue employee was making poor decisions and in turn, eroding my trust. This situation was contributing to many sleepless nights and I sought out support from my coach. She listened with curiosity, and then said, “What a gift!” I was taken aback, reeling from this unexpected response.
She coach then asked, “What is your greatest fear in this situation?” “Hmmm, that’s a good question”, I replied. I had to think for a minute while she patiently waited through the silence. “My greatest fear is telling him that I don’t trust him.” To me this was a red line and one I wasn’t willing to cross with a team member. I thought, how can you build trust by telling someone you don’t trust them? I soon learned it was the right move.
My coach suggested that going there (having this conversation), leading with vulnerability and authenticity could actually deepen the trust and improve our relationship. This reframing of my biggest managerial challenge opened up new ways of thinking. Instead of feeling victimized by the situation, I had the choice to face my greatest fear and grow from the experience. It became clear to me that an intervention was required and it was up to me. With some doubt and trepidation, I summoned the courage to have the conversation the very next day.
Surprisingly, my employee met my vulnerability with his own, sharing that a previous workplace had been toxic and he was behaving defensively to protect himself. He was upset that his actions undermined my trust in him and asked what he could do to earn it back. After months of struggle, this was our first REAL conversation, one vulnerable human to another. The energy in the room shifted dramatically, opening up a shared space, and we both breathed with relief. I assured him that I was on his side and his success was extremely important to me and the organization. Our relationship improved rapidly after that day and we soon became close colleagues.
This breakthrough experience was so powerful that I became curious about coach training and the possibility that I could serve leaders in this way. A year later I entered the Leadership Coaching program at Georgetown University and eventually became a certified leadership coach.
Often our greatest challenges ARE our greatest gifts; our perceived adversary can be our greatest ally; our biggest struggle can become our biggest win. Approaching challenges with a growth mindset is a game-changer and provides the foundation for a successful coaching engagement. A leadership coach helps clients uncover their own answers (their answers within), and access thoughts and feelings that cause interference (or obstacles). With clarity comes perspective, spaciousness, and pathways to action. When clients meet challenges with optimism and embrace them as opportunities to learn and grow, they can deepen connection and have a more meaningful impact, with their people, at work and at home.
Coaching is a joyful experience. As my clients create space for their own learning, I also learn. The unique partnership between leader and coach is magical; the impossible becomes possible.
If you are working with a leadership coach you know what I am talking about. If you are curious and want to learn more, send me a message, or set up a free 20-minute intro call here.