In the first of a new series of Coaches in Conversation, Clive Steeper discusses the role of neuroscience, risk and professionalism with Tony Nutley, Founder of UK College of Personal Development (UKCPD) and Hetty Einzig, independent leadership coach and Editor of Coaching Perspectives.
The opportunity to discuss these topics with such highly experienced coaches who are also coach educators and influence the next generation of coaches as well as leaders and managers was one I couldn’t pass by. We started our roundtable conversation with the hot topic of neuroscience. It seems that every week neuroscience is providing new understanding and evidence of what is occurring chemically in our brains. Since we’ve always talked of the ‘chemistry’ between people it’s fascinating now to discover more about the real chemistry of what is actually going on inside our bodies.
Two things became clear from our conversation: (i) there is energy and enthusiasm to gain new insights from this science; and (ii) it is unclear how neuroscience can best be applied in coaching.
Despite the ever-increasing amount of words being written about the topic, there is little evidence-based information about neuroscience tools or techniques we can use in coaching. One book that does well in providing examples is Neuroscience for Coaches.
Tony: When Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) was first introduced, some people had a negative reaction towards the subject, yet today there are many practical applications of NLP-based techniques within coaching. Was the title off- putting or is there evidence that should cause us to be more concerned as coaches about NLP than neuroscience?
Clive: What are the perceptual differences between coaches that risk deter them and is there a way of helping them to benefit from the applied knowledge?
Tony: One of the keys to becoming a great coach is paying attention to what your clients are saying and how they are saying it. This is particularly important at the contracting stage. Therefore, the first thing in contracting, as well as in coaching, is making sure you are fully present for your client, listening, observing and noticing the information from all your senses – you should have no other inner dialogue. The challenge for coaches is that this is developed with practice i.e. experience. My observation is that many people who claim to be great coaches, and who may have the credentials, are often not very good coaches because they don’t pay enough attention to what their client is saying or their own state.
Hetty: This has implications for how we train coaches, which I think is part of Clive’s point about risk. Is coach training actually up to the demands of current needs – i.e, risk, and our personal relationship with risk? For example, if you had a high risk tolerance, you might be comfortable to challenge the client more. If a coach understood their own risk preference, then before challenging their client they might have a clearer internal conversation. I have found that some coaches avoid the possibility of challenging because they believe that it might upset the client and therefore threaten the relationship, and – at an unconscious level – maybe they fear the threat also to their source of revenue.
Clive: I wonder how often this is the case and whether the coach takes the type of decision, even though they may be faced with a client whose situation mirrors this predicament and the reason for coaching is to help the client to overcome a difficulty or unlock performance – both of which may require facing and dealing with issues that they had previously been avoiding. So the fear of risk in the coach could become a constraint to the success of the coaching intervention.
Tony: Exactly. My colleague, Melanie Richens, says ‘if you want to be everyone’s friend, then don’t be a coach.’ Coaching is not about being a client’s friend, but rather about being a professional who can provide objective feedback and point out when necessary a client’s apparent unwillingness to commit to a specific outcome. I’ve experienced people training to be coaches who have said ‘Oh, I don’t want to rock the boat with my clients, they might not then invite me back.’
Clive: I have also observed during a coaching supervision and co-coaching sessions coaches who are unwilling to accept they need to change. It makes me curious as to whether they are playing to their own preferences rather than pushing the performance levels of their client. In others words, are they extending themselves and exploring the ‘uncomfortable’?.
Tony: Isn’t this performance coaching? Surely this is a distinguishing factor about coaching – the capacity to enable people to move out of their comfort zone, and be in the learning zone, which by definition has to be uncomfortable.
Hetty: I wonder to what extent coaching supervisors consider their own risk disposition plus that of their coaches when they begin to work with them.
Tony: Doesn’t this lie in the contracting process? How you want to be supported and coached? If somebody says ‘Oh no, I don’t want that, I don’t want to rock the boat I just want you to be nice and give me reassurance’ then I become concerned to really understand what performance means to them, and their clients.
Hetty: I would go further and say that in any space Tony, isn’t that (a) one of the distinguishing factors about coaching; the capacity to enable and support people to move out of their comfort zone.
Hetty: … and (b) the learning zone, which by definition has to be uncomfortable as Clive was saying so I think it’s fascinating Tony that we’re still getting people who want to train to be coaches but have, linking back to risk, clearly very low risk levels.
Tony: When coaches are learning they are in a lovely comfortable bubble, learning and making friends but maybe not actually being prepared for when there are going to be real clients in front of you paying for your services as a coach. Therefore it’s important to be professional. We have introduced a new module to our coach training about acting professionally to address this issue.
Clive: So if coaches don’t conduct critical reviews, and then reflect on the feedback, to practise new approaches, how are they improving?
Hetty: These points around practice of new and old learning, stretching ourselves followed by reflection and review, are so important. In essence it is stretching ourselves, taking risks to try something new and receiving feedback that help us not only improve, but also make us more professional.
Clive: Learning to challenge without offending takes practice, and learning to improve through peer, or even public, review takes time to get used to. It’s about getting comfortable with the uncomfortable. In sport athletes use video recording, to review their performance and spot areas for improvement – this is also used in some corporate training. If the coaching profession used more audio and video recording as a means for reviewing performance with peers, I believe this would help coaches become professional more quickly.
Hetty: To find that right moment to challenge a client is hard. It takes skill plus a degree of courage. If you are afraid of upsetting your client, or have not had the right learning, development or experience to trust your senses, then as a coach, are you acting in your own interest of that of the client?
Tony: Learning to be present and to back yourself to challenge someone knowing it is the right thing to do, reflects your coaching skills and the professionalism that lies within.
Clive: Isn’t this where the quality of coaching supervision can come into play?
Hetty: In part being more professional as a coach is about being more confident in ‘having a go’ and then scrupulously seeing and reflecting on our mistakes as part of learning and trying to improve all the time. That’s what other professions do.
Tony: I think there is an opportunity here for the coaching bodies – the AC, ICF and EMCC* to be out talking to the public as a united voice about the coaching industry and its level of professionalism.
[As the conversation drew to a close, we touched on establishing coaching as a leadership style and how that might elevate coaching supervision to be part of the growing movement by corporates for internal coaches.]
Clive: Is there a danger here that the coaching bodies are perhaps being too protective of their interests and not encouraging coaching to become more internally absorbed in organisations, corporates, NGOs, etc., so that coaching could become a recognised competence and leadership style?
Tony: We refer to this as the coaching methodology in coaching and leadership. We find this gives people free range to think ‘OK, I’m not commanding control here. I’m going to engage in a coaching conversation with my team or whoever I’m managing and so bring out the best in them, which in turn brings out the best in me, and I’ll look “cool” because we’re being successful.’
Clive: Then if the leader / manager saw themselves as developing their excellence in coaching, would that then encourage coaching role models through the organisation? A bit like if a leader inspires well, then others in the organisation invariably flourish in inspiring and influencing.
Hetty: What if coaching is a subset of leadership, and I agree it’s a style and an approach, could it not also be a way of leading that gets away from the hero macho leader?
Hetty: Coaching a profession and a professional way of operating in working life?
Clive: Why not! Referring again to professional sport where sportsmen and women will have a range of skilled professionals in their camp. A leader could both practise coaching and have a professional coach to support them along with a mentor who is skilled in the leader’s walk of life.
Tony: Why wouldn’t you? Point me out someone who is successful in anything today and hasn’t benefited from the support of a coach?! Even the CEO of Google
In closing I invite you to consider the following reflections on our conversation and share your views by writing to editor@ associationforcoaching.com
- When reflecting on our coaching skills, what neuroscience insights do we use to inform our thinking and development as a coach?
- What neuroscience tools, like NLP, are you using with your coaching clients?
- As coaches, how well do we understand our own risk disposition, its impact on how we behave and the influence of risk in our clients’ world?
- How can we improve the professionalism of coaching?
*AC – Association for Coaching
EMCC – European Mentoring and Coaching Council
ICF – International Coach Federation
ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTORS
Clive Steeper helps people to achieve excellence in business and motorsport. He was Managing Director of several international businesses responsible for introducing new technologies into the global marketplace. Now as an executive coach, coaching supervisor and facilitator, Clive works with international corporations, as well as fast-growth businesses, focusing on leadership, performance, and managing change. Clive has also been a Team Manager for an International Motorsport Team, as well as a Tyre Engineer in Formula 1 and Motorsport Instructor. He currently competes in a UK Championship for Sports Prototypes and won the series in 2015. www.clivesteeper.com
Hetty Einzig is an independent executive coach, trainer and facilitator working globally with individuals, teams and groups in the areas of leadership development, transpersonal coaching and emotional intelligence. Hetty has worked as a coach for over twenty-five years, and her roots are in transpersonal psychology, which provides a philosophical/spiritual depth that underpins her coaching work. Her approach is holistic and interdependent; taking a systems perspective in her work she works with the individual or team within their organisational and current context. Hetty is the Editor of the Coaching Perspectives and lives in the UK. She has two daughters busy making their way in the world!
Tony Nutley founded the UK College of Personal Development (UKCPD) in 2001. It was the first organisation in the UK to develop the traditional Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) practitioner training into a coaching focused programme, and also first to have their programme accredited by Association for Coaching and the Institute for Leadership & Management (ILM). In 2016, UKCPD was awarded a Business Excellence award for its high standards of training and student support. Tony has published various books on personal development, and is an Accredited NLP Trainer. In addition, he is advisor to the Association for Coaching on standards of training programmes, recognition and accreditation.