• Toby Sinclair

Book Summary: Challenging Coaching by Ian Day, John Blakey


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The Big Idea:


There is too much bias towards Non-directive coaching within the coaching profession. Because of the strong link coaching has with the “sister” profession of counselling, some coaches believe that coaching should be supportive and not challenging. There is a risk that the coach colludes with the coachee; that is, aligns 100 per cent with their worldview and fails to challenge or give feedback from a different perspective.


The authors challenge this bias and highlight many cases where a more challenging, directive coaching stance can lead to breakthrough results for clients.


The authors introduce the FACTS coaching approach:

  1. Feedback

  2. Accountability

  3. Courageous goals

  4. Tension

  5. Systems thinking


The behaviours and skills in FACTS expand upon the non-directive coaching approach. These should be applied once the core skills have been mastered and a firm foundation of trust and respect has been established.


The Best Quotes:

"As polite Englishmen, we are very familiar with this and often see coaches “go round the houses” and “dance around the handbags” rather than making an honest and direct point."
"Unfortunately, there is a severe shortage of people in the corporate world who look at the world through systems thinking “lens.” This leads to a focus on short-term, silo thinking, with a blindness to the wider context in which individuals are operating."


Tobys Takeaways:


This is a great book for experienced coaches. It certainly challenged my bias towards a more non-directive approach. This book will be very helpful for coaches working within organisations with a more directive culture. Clients may be more responsive to a challenging style.


I really liked the connection the authors made to Systems Thinking. They highlight how sub-optimization, emergence, fractals and leverage points are all relevant for coaching. For example:

"Suboptimization occurs in coaching when the individual’s goals are achieved, but at the expense of broader goals related to the individual’s team, department, or wider organization."

Finally, the approach shared within the book should not be confused with a "Command and Control" style. The authors highlight that the foundations for coaching need to be in place such as Empathy, Active Listening and Powerful Questions. However, the authors challenge coaches to take a more directive stance and be more comfortable doing this.


For those seeking to ask questions on this book summary and get help with coaching, you can reach out to me for free Coach Mentoring

A longer summary of Challenging Coaching

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Support/Challenge Matrix


Optimum performance occurs when there is an effective balance between the levels of support and challenge provided by the coach.


Support refers to interventions that affirm the value of the individual (building trust, respect, rapport) or those that reduce uncertainty and anxiety (encouragement, focusing on strengths, empathy).


Challenge refers to interventions that compel the individual to confront current reality (accountability, feedback, limiting beliefs) and to meet the changing expectations of all stakeholders (goal setting, visioning, alignment of values).


The absence of challenge in a business environment leads to complacency, indulgence, apathy, and disinterest.


High challenge/ High support interventions are:

  • They are honest yet not judgmental.

  • They take the conversation into the unknown.

  • They are on the edge but are not directly confrontational.

  • They often arise intuitively rather than being clever, preplanned creations.

  • They are often cheeky and humorous.

  • They are risky yet motivated by genuine curiosity.


The zone of uncomfortable debate


In this zone, there is a feeling of increased tension and the pressure starts to build as the parties may disagree and may not see “eye to eye.”



All the components of challenging coaching require the coach to enter the ZOUD more often, more skillfully, and with total belief that this is being done in the best long-term interests of the coaching relationship.


As polite Englishmen, we are very familiar with this and often see coaches “go round the houses” and “dance around the handbags” rather than making an honest and direct point. They avoid entering the ZOUD.


What are the conditions that will enable you as a coach to enter the ZOUD and work within it?

Speak your truth


Speaking your truth and facing the facts are key enablers of the transformation of both individuals and businesses. Coaches can lead the way by being role models, exemplifying this transformational behavior, and giving the coachee permission to practice direct and honest communication.


Certain characteristics, beliefs, and behaviors enable a challenging coach to speak their truth and face the facts. These include:

  1. Recognizing and accepting that everyone’s truth is different and equally valid. This is based on perception, so we use the phrase “speaking your truth,” not “speaking the truth.”

  2. Having an instinct for the truth and being in touch with your emotions and intuition as an internal compass pointing to your truth.

  3. Being prepared to speak honestly, take risks, and challenge others, and to enter the ZOUD and hold people accountable for their actions.

  4. Stepping in on behalf of absent stakeholders and the common good and taking the risk of upsetting the status quo, not for personal gain but as a statement of your values, a daily proclamation of who you are.

“All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”

German philosopher Schopenhauer


FACTS Coaching Pillars:

  1. Feedback

  2. Accountability

  3. Courageous goals

  4. Tension

  5. Systems thinking


Feedback


Challenging feedback appears to be seen as less important than and is hidden behind other more obvious coaching behaviours such as listening, questioning, establishing rapport, and goal setting.


Why we struggle with difficult conversations;

“our anxiety results not just from having to face the other person but from having to face ourselves. The conversation has the potential to disrupt our sense of who we are in the world.”

The most effective feedback will be from high support, high challenge, which develops awareness and pushes the change that is necessary for future success. Feedback should have “bite,” create insight, deliver a new perspective, and cause a step change.


Accountability


Three levels at which the coach can act as an agent of accountability:


  • Level 1 - focused on the personal actions, learning, and alignment of the coachee

  • Level 2 - holds the coachee accountable to the coaching contract they have agreed and to the relationship they are building with the coach.

  • Level 3 - happens when the coach chooses to act as an agent of accountability for the voice of unrepresented stakeholders in the wider system.


Courageous goals


Characteristics:

  • Outrageous—the first reaction to a courageous goal should be: “That’s impossible!”

  • Frightening—the second reaction should be: “Even if it were possible, it would frighten the life out of me to commit to it!”

  • Transformative—the third reaction should be: “If we did this then my whole world and our whole organization will have changed in a way that I cannot fully imagine right now.”

“Come to the Edge”: “Come to the edge.” “We can’t. We’re afraid.” “Come to the edge.” “We can’t. We will fall!” “Come to the edge.” And they came. And he pushed them. And they flew.

Guillaume Apollinaire


Factors that influence courageous goals:

  • Fear of failure

  • Lack of alignment of goals between organization, team, leader, and individual

  • The inhibiting link of goals to remuneration, promotion, and bonus schemes

  • Unnecessary complexity


Tension


The Yerkes–Dodson law dictates that performance increases with physiological or mental arousal up to an optimal level; when the arousal level passes this optimal point performance decreases.

Interventions to increase tension in coaching conversation:

  • Use of silence

  • Prolonged eye contact

  • Probing questions

  • Challenge the coachee to take a risk

  • Challenging statements

  • Play devil’s advocate

  • Take the role of an opponent

  • Use an approach opposite to the coachee’s usual style


Systems thinking


Unfortunately, there is a severe shortage of people in the corporate world who look at the world through systems thinking “lens.” This leads to a focus on short-term, silo thinking, with a blindness to the wider context in which individuals are operating.


Systems thinking:

"Belief that everything in the world is connected and that it is the relationship between things rather than the things themselves that is the primary determinant of desirable or undesirable outcomes."

A system:

“an interconnected set of elements that is coherently organized in a way that achieves something.”

Systems Thinking Principles in Action during Coaching:


Suboptimization


"When a coach is working with one individual it can be tempting to think of that individual as an island and to consider that their actions are independent of what is happening in the rest of the organization. This is a person-centered approach, not a systems thinking approach. In systems thinking the risk that the goals at a subsystem level dominate at the expense of the total system’s goals is known as suboptimization."


"Suboptimization occurs in coaching when the individual’s goals are achieved, but at the expense of broader goals related to the individual’s team, department, or wider organization."


Emergence


"Emergence is the idea that complex systems have the capacity to exhibit new behaviors and that such behaviors can be triggered by small changes in the detail of the situation.

How do you know that the flapping of your coaching wings might not shift the energy in the system in such a way that significant impacts emerge from your interventions? To believe this is possible is both an exciting prospect and a serious responsibility."


Fractals


"The term “fractal” is used to describe how the examination of a small-scale component of a system can reveal information relating to the system as a whole."


Leverage points


"The phrase leverage points are used in systems thinking to describe those points in the system where tension is being held and the subtle release of this tension will lead to dramatic results. In coaching, leverage points in the system may be specific individuals who have become talismanic within the organization. They could also be specific moments of time when the system is poised on a decision point that will have far-reaching and irreversible repercussions."


Systems-centred Coaching Questions


Example:

“If your decision were to be featured tomorrow on the front page of the Daily Telegraph, how would you feel?”

The role of intuition


The only human faculty with the speed and accuracy to discern and navigate within such complexity is intuition. In the context of coaching, it is intuition that allows a coach to make pinpoint interventions that not only shift the individual but also have the potential to move the whole system.


©2020 by Toby Sinclair.