Retirement Wheel of Life

Retirement Wheel of Life

The idea of a “wheel of life” is a well-established approach in life coaching. It’s a simple but profound tool that gives clients the opportunity to look across the different areas of life and take a temperature check of how they are doing though using a simple scoring system.

There are always different areas we could use to review, but I chose areas that I thought people considering or in retirement would respond to coming into to a huge transition in their lives.

The idea of this coaching tool is that it would invariably used by someone thinking about retirement as a prelude to a conversation with a trusted other or a Coach.


The areas I have suggested are:



Close Family Is there close family around or people who feel like family?


Wider social networks; hobbies and friendships


The social networks and hobbies and interests you as an individual have and friendship groups; e.g., sports, social clubs, hobbies like sailing or walking




Sufficient income to support your retirement and plans in place to manage this


Wider social networks; hobbies and activities



The social networks and hobbies and interests you as an individual have; e.g., sports, social clubs, hobbies like sailing or walking


Personal growth and learning


What changes might be required in the actions the you take in your day-to-day life; the level of flexibility you have to change and your ongoing growth; e.g. maintaining IT skills


Work re-orientation



How you might have re-orientated from a normal work pattern to perhaps doing some work/paid or unpaid and things like volunteering


Health and planning ahead


Awareness of your own and significant others aging and plans/ideas in terms of handling frailty as you get older


Having time out


How much you have time out to replenish the batteries and space for yourself


The wheel of retirement exercise is here: Healthy wheel of life for Retirement final

Coaching overview for clients

Deciding to go ahead and have some coaching is a big decision, and then comes the next bit- deciding who will work for you as a Coach. These are a few of the typical questions that people consider when deciding whether a Coach is right for them.

What is coaching?

Coaching is a form of learning where a coach supports a client to create learning and personal growth in a way that benefits them. Coaching is normally a series of conversations one person has with another. Julie Starr, a well-known coach, gives a good overall definition of coaching as “a conversation with a purpose, a space where someone can think through what is going on for them; the opportunity to do great thinking”.

Its worth mentioning briefly what coaching isn’t; it isn’t structured training (like classroom learning), and it isn’t counselling or psychotherapy. One of the principles of coaching is that people who come to see a Coach have innate resourcefulness, and its through the profound discussions that self-awareness and responsibility for actions going forward are felt by the client. That’s isn’t to say that that its all about the present and moving forward; sometimes its important to understand the past and why for example, a client might have repeated patterns of behaviours which aren’t helpful to them.

Why have coaching?

People enlist the services of a coach because they want to improve their situation and achieve goals. They want to learn new ways of thinking and approaching situations. A coach uses a combination of observation, questioning, listening and feedback to create a conversation that’s rich in insight and learning. For the client they will experience a greater focus and attention that enables them to develop a greater awareness and appreciation of their own circumstances. In addition, they will also create new ways to resolve issues, produce better results and generally achieve their goals more easily.

Common benefits people experience from coaching include:

  • Improved sense of direction and focus
  • Increased knowledge of self/self-awareness
  • Improved ability to relate to and influence others
  • Increased motivation
  • Improved personal effectiveness
  • Increased resourcefulness/resilience, e.g., ability to handle change

What does the coaching journey look like?

Most Coaches including myself offer some sort of (usually free) chemistry session to talk through the challenges the client wants to work with and how we might get on working together. I also take potential clients through some principles of contracting for the coaching; duration, confidentiality, costs and the like. I have a strong ethic of only taking on clients I really feel I can help.

If we decide between us to go ahead, I encourage the client to create a coaching plan (even if its brief) setting out what they want from the coaching work; This very often changes as the work develops, but its important to set out initial goals, and I talk with the client frequently about how we are doing and measuring progress.

In terms of the length of the coaching work, whilst the requirements for each relationship are considered on a case-by-case basis, typically a coaching relationship lasts for 6-8 sessions over a 6-8-month period. Personally, I tend not to work with clients for less than 3-4 sessions as it takes time to get to know them and really get momentum in the work.

What can you expect from me?

The role of a coach provides a kind of support distinct from any other. I focus solely on your situation with the kind of attention and commitment that you might rarely experience elsewhere.

I will listen to you, with a genuine curiosity to understand who you are, what you think and feel and how you experience the world. I will look to reflect back to you, with the kind of objective assessment that creates real clarity. During conversations, I will encourage you to rise to challenges, overcome obstacles and look for active solutions

Because the relationship is based on trust and openness, the content of your discussions will be confidential. Where you have agreed through your line management or a third party that coaching would be helpful for you, I will agree with you the best way to keep them involved or updated and hold the confidentiality of the sessions.

What do you need to bring to coaching?

I will encourage you to stay committed to the coaching process. That means showing up for face to face or virtual sessions, and keeping any agreements you make during sessions to follow up.

I look for you to be open to the potential of coaching. That means contributing to conversations openly and honestly. For example, if something isn’t working, I need to know. If you have concerns or problems, voice them. If you know why a problem is occurring, say so. The strength and power of coaching relates strongly to the level of openness and trust between you and me.

For coaching to be successful you need to be motivated and committed to the coaching process by preparing for each session with:

  • An idea of session objectives
  • A de-brief of completed tasks and action plans (or obstacles that prevented completion)
  • To be committed to coaching and to help the process with willingness to: be open-minded, to challenge yourself, to set goals and take action, to be persistent and to back yourself (with my support) to get results

How do you work out costs for the work?

As an experienced and accredited Coach I keep an eye on the coaching market in terms of costs, and tend to be in the medium bracket of fees for the coaching work I offer.

The professional coaching I provide for organisational clients is more than double the price of coaching work provided to private clients, a recognition of the costs that individuals have to pay out of their own pocket. Around 60% of my clients are private and I operate a variable approach to costs which allows me to charge private clients a lot less.





The Healthy Mind Platter

The Healthy Mind Platter

Healthy Mind PlatterThe Healthy Mind Platter has seven daily essential mental activities necessary for optimum mental health. It was created by Dan Siegel and David Rock, two leaders in neuroscience work.

These seven daily activities make up the full set of “mental nutrients” that your brain and relationships need to function at their best. By engaging every day in each of these “servings”, you promote integration in your life and enable your brain to coordinate and balance its activities. These essential mental activities strengthen your brain’s internal connections and your connections with other people and the world around you.

The activities are:

  • Focus time
  • Play/leisure time
  • Connecting time
  • Physical time
  • Time in
  • Down time
  • Sleep time

By adding an eighth ingredient nutrition, I have created a Healthy Mind Platter Wheel which will make a good practical Coaching Tool, which you can access by clicking on the link.

Getting the best from coaching

Getting the best from Coaching; a client perspective

This is an article for existing clients and potential new clients to give them some ideas on what coaching is, what to expect from it and how to get the best from the coaching experience. This is based on many years of working with a myriad of different clients with different needs from different sectors. I strive wholeheartedly to make the coaching experience a positive and fulfilling one for clients, aiming to emotionally intuit as well as rationally think the ways that individuals get the best from the coaching experience.

What is Coaching?

Coaching is a form of learning where a coach supports a client to undergo learning and personal growth in a way that benefits them. Coaching is normally a series of conversations one person has with another at a series of sessions, as well as some contact in between (this depends on how the coach works: I encourage some contact in between sessions to help motivation as they are often 3-4 weeks apart). The coach intends to create conversations that will benefit the client in a way that is cathartic to their learning and progress, buts its very much a “dual alliance” between client and coach.

My favourite definition of coaching is by Julie Starr: “Coaching is a conversation with a purpose, also a space where someone can think through what is going on for them and an opportunity to do ‘great thinking’’. One of the key principles that separates it from therapy or counselling is that the client is in a resourceful state. He or she has not come to be ‘fixed’ but has the ability to resolve his or her own situation with the support of the coach. Coaching is about change. Its purpose is to help the client become more effective in whatever they are working on.

In terms of the length of coaching work, whilst the requirements for each project should be considered on a case by case basis, coaching focuses on some specific challenges and typically a coaching relationship lasts for 6-8 sessions over several months with sessions being typically 4 weekly apart. In some cases the client can re-engage the coach to do some follow up coaching periodically over a longer term.

Why do people have coaching?

People enlist the services of a coach because they want to learn new ways of thinking through and approaching situations.

A coach uses a combination of observation, questioning, listening and feedback to create a conversation that’s rich in insight and learning. For the client they typically develop a greater self awareness and appreciation of their own circumstances along with a willingness to be proactive and undertake actions. In addition, they will also create new ways to resolve issues, produce better results and generally achieve their goals more easily.

Common benefits people experience from coaching include:

  • Improved sense of direction and focus
  • Increased knowledge of self/self-awareness
  • Improved ability to relate to and influence others
  • Increased motivation and “follow through” on things
  • Improved personal effectiveness
  • Increased resourcefulness/resilience, e.g. ability to handle change

What you can expect from me as your Coach

The role of a coach provides a kind of support distinct from any other. I aim to focus solely on your situation with the kind of attention and commitment that you wouldn’t get in day to day interactions with people. I will listen to you, with a genuine curiosity to understand who you are, what you think and generally how you experience the world. During conversations, I will encourage you to rise to challenges (and sometimes challenge you!), overcome obstacles and move into action.

Because the relationship is based on trust and openness, the content of our discussions will be confidential. Where a third party (perhaps an employer) has initially requested the coaching for you, I will agree with you the best way for us to keep them updated but not any of the confidential content of the sessions.

I do ask that at the start of each piece of coaching work that we agree a coaching plan and contract. This sets out the main objectives of the coaching work, as well as the way we are going to work together. It is also important for us to review progress at the mid-point to assess if coaching is achieving the desired outcomes, and any alternative interventions that could be offered.

What I as a Coach expect from you

I look for you to stay committed to the coaching process. That means showing up for sessions (face to face or virtual), taking your own notes where appropriate (though I always write up and send an overview of the session and actions) and to keep any agreements you make during sessions.

I look for you to be open to the potential of coaching. That means contributing to conversations openly and honestly. For example, if something isn’t working, I need to know. If you have concerns or problems, it is important to voice them. The strength and power of coaching relates strongly to the level of openness and trust between us.

I hope for clients to develop a blend of strengths to help coaching work (with my support) that includes things like building self-awareness, the ability to challenge self, to set goals and take action, to be persistent and to work on your self-belief to move forward.

Some tips on getting the best from the Coaching experience as a client

Based on several years of client experience:

  • Don’t “back end” actions if you can possibly help it; some of the clients I have worked with (where coaching has worked best) have booked time out/ set time aside every week to both work on actions from previous sessions and/or reflect on the coaching work and any changes they need to make
  • Consider creating a Coaching journal; several clients have done this and find it enhances the learning and the follow through from sessions. This can be as simple as buying a new notebook that you write things in during a typical week. One client I worked with found time at the end of a working week to use the writing as a reflective process to look at progress on the areas they were working on
  • Encourage informal 360 feedback from others around you. 360 feedback is a formal HR tool that is used in many organisations formally, but it doesn’t have to be onerous to do informally. One client I am working with asked these simple questions of others they worked with as colleagues: Have you noticed any difference in me and the way that I work since xx date? Can you offer one example of something I do that you appreciate and would like me to build on? Can you offer one example of something I do that you find unhelpful and that you would like me to do differently? Is there any other feedback you would like to take this opportunity to give?
  • When you have a session coming up, ask yourself what you want from the session; what would make it a really good session? (see example preparation template below). Sometimes coaching happens “in the moment” but sometimes it is about thinking something through beforehand that you want to bring up; one client writes and sends through a reflective piece in preparation for the session a few days beforehand that we use to reflect on during the session
  • Take time out for your own review of your progress perhaps a few sessions into the project; how do you think the coaching is going? What is working for you? What are you struggling with? Is there anything you would like me to do differently? (see below possible templates to help support this)
  • Go back periodically to the Coaching plan you set out at the start of the coaching work; how far do you think you have come since then? Are your overall objectives the same or different since the start of the coaching work? (they often change during the coaching project)
  • Are there any learning resources or “coaching tools” you have picked up along the way that you have found illuminating and useful? These might be things like Psychometric tests, career review exercises or psychological exercises around areas like self-confidence; it might be worth creating a Learning folder for these to come back to at periodic intervals in the future. For example, it could be helpful to understand how behaviour change works for individuals through something like the “stages of change” (or transtheoretical) model to help understand that recidivism or slipping back is inherent in any change process before we break through to make sustainable change
  • Remember the cost-reward ratio; a client said to me recently of coaching: “what you get out of it depends on what you put into it”

Possible processes and paperwork that may help

I know that coaching processes and paperwork aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, and I have had plenty of coaching projects that have involved nothing other than a Coaching plan/contract and session notes. However, processes and paperwork can help at times to structure things a little as milestones of progress or reflective learning.

General forms

COACHING PREPARATION FORM: a simple reflective exercise that encourages to think about whats happened since last session; positives., challenges and any particular focus for the session coming up

Blank Reflection Note a simple reflection process of some key questions about an experience and what you have learnt

Overall Coaching project review approaches

These are a few approaches to stepping away from the day to day work of coaching, and reflecting on overall progress:

WHAT HAS CHANGED FOR ME IN COACHING: This is a simple review template that provides an opportunity to reflect on where you are as a coaching client by looking back to when you started, where you are now, and what challenges still remain

Coaching Review questionairre 2020: a detailed questionairre that enables you to assess your progress on a periodic basis including areas like career, finance, health and development.

Tolerations: Sometimes when people are feeling out of control just being able to tick or give attention and deal with bits and pieces on the list helps. This is a list of “100 tolerations” to review



Past present and future Coaching Tool

Past/Present/Future Coaching Tool

past present futureA question  arising early in the coaching relationship is how are the coach and client going to spend their time together and which time will they spend this time on?  Will they concentrate more on the past, looking back in anger (sadness, joy…)?  Or, will they ‘seize the day’, trying to ‘go with the flow’ in the momentum of being alive and ‘open’ to the present moment?  Or, might they anticipate the future, bright or otherwise, perhaps in the belief that pro-activity is crucial and failing to plan is planning to fail?

For some people, there’s no contest.  It has to be the present.  That’s the place to start from, ‘The past is history, the future’s a mystery, that’s why the present’s a gift’, they claim. Meditation practice focuses on the present, the here and now.  The argument between the past and the future is represented by the two giants of therapeutic thinking.  In the red corner, psychoanalysis insists that the present and future can only be understood in the context of the past, ’Those who cannot understand the past are condemned to repeat it’.  They turn to the metaphor of archaeology claiming that any way of life is best understood by excavating and piecing together its artefacts, some of which have been deeply buried for many years.

In the blue corner, cognitive behavioural approaches argue that it is a waste of time and money to self indulgently wallow in past memories (many of which are probably spurious at best and maybe even false anyway).  There’s no point crying over spilt milk.  Better to concentrate on cleaning up the mess and learning how not to spill it again in future.  Never mind what has happened.  What do you want to happen?  Start with the end in mind, plan proactively, set objectives, aims, goals and evaluate.  That’s the way; forwards, not backwards… onwards, upwards…

In a therapeutic context, a therapist talked of her work with adolescents who had suffered trauma.  She said, most trauma-free adolescents would see their life in terms of importance of time frames as follows


The future’s the thing.  Where it’s happening.  What to do? Where to go?  Who with?  What to be (or at least what to appear to be on social networks)?

However, for those who are affected by life-changing trauma, they cannot have this hopeful, forward-looking perspective.  They are condemned/confined to the past.  They see the times as:

PAST..Present future.

 The exercise

past present future 2If this is so, it’s important that Coaches get to know which of the three broad time frames are most important to their client and when.  If they don’t, they will be talking at cross-purposes, the time will be out of joint and they might sound like they are using a different language. The Coach can also encourage the client to “time travel” and spend time inhabiting each of these time frames to reflect on the broad canvas of their journey.

Past, Present and Future Coaching tool covers areas of prevailing drivers, key relationships, work, and  relationship with oneself as an individual.

The Coaching tool was developed jointly by David Crowe and Martin Smith.

Time out and slowing down


Taking time out and slowing down is a statement of the obvious, right? We know these things are good for us. But what if the world we live in is getting faster, ever changing and we are rushing constantly to keep up? What if we struggle some days to feel in control of what’s happening, and it all happens so quickly and another day is over before we know it?

This article came to me recently (another whilst on the spinning bike!) particularly reflecting on some of the senior coaching clients I work with who have been busier at work than ever despite working from home and not having a commute; some are starting work at 6am, a short walk from the bedroom to the spare room or the dining room to start work, a quick sandwich grab at lunch and finishing sometimes at 6-7pm- often essentially a 12-hour day. Part of my coaching work is challenging them to find ways of working that work for them, that can sustain ongoing health and wellbeing through things like regular time out.

As ever with the articles I write, I’m not trying to be a paragon of virtue here but observing human nature in both myself and others. I also recognise that in career terms I am at a different place than some of the people I work with, not working long hours, but hopefully there are maybe a few small gems in here that might just get you to sit back, take time out and reflect on what you could do differently as well as commend what you do right. I have made a small nod to the wonderful confectionary that is time out, though not a bar I see in the shops any more… (tagline for chocolate aficionadas: the wafer break with a layer of Flake)

Daily Time out

How much space do you set aside in the working day to refresh, get up and walk about, switch off?

I discovered a simple desk top tool called “Coffee break” which I have downloaded that stops me with a big sign on my computer every 45 minutes, suggesting I step away for 5 minutes and take a break! You can set it to whatever time period you like, but one of the better work management apps out there I would suggest.

Perhaps another element of pacing yourself and staying mindful during the working day is to get the day off to a good start and do a few minutes active mindfulness. Evidence suggests that as little as 10 minutes per day can have a beneficial effect. It’s not only the immediate effect of peace and stillness, but I find it helps me take breaks during the day if I have practised mindfulness first thing in the morning.

What about later in the day, say mid-afternoon onwards when snacks appear more and more tempting (or maybe that’s just me)? It’s worth remembering the law of diminishing returns when you are tempted to push on through and finish off that report that you started and there is a deadline on… in psychology (though originally used in economics) according to the law of diminishing returns, the value or enjoyment we get from something starts to decrease after a certain point. … the law of diminishing returns also applies to performance where when we squeeze to get that extra thing done when we are tired, its either not great work or we don’t finish.

This brings us into the territory of prioritising and time management. There are some people that we come across though, who seem to manage well, with a sense of calm, and not at the mercy of rushed agendas, and last-minute crises. The key question for us all is how much can we do about this? How much of it is the organisation or system in which we operate, and how much can we as individuals have a say? (some people argue that the whole wave of resilience training helps get organisations off the hook with respect to looking after people instead of them taking responsibility) Can we slow things down in order to get what we need to get done, or at least buy ourselves time for some prioritising of what needs to happen? Some people I come across feel trapped within the team and wider organisation they are working in, and sense they have little freedom to flex. However stressed the team is though, perhaps we can all improve our own time management through better planning, prioritising, delegating, controlling our environment (rather than always the other way around), understanding ourselves and identifying what we will change about our habits, routines and attitude.

Weekend Time out

Google is wonderful at coming up with background information on pretty much anything you can think of; on the idea of the weekend, it says that the present-day concept of the “weekend” first arose in the industrial north of Britain in the early 19th century. The Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America union was the first to successfully demand a five-day work week in 1929 to create another day in addition to the Sunday sabbath. In effect, it took the industrial revolution, faith and workers’ rights to make the modern sense of the weekend happen.

Ever since the 1960s, there has been talk of the weekend being extended to make it almost as long as the working week. Three- or four-day weeks have been a dream for many who believe advances in technology make it possible for people to complete their required work in a shorter time. A firm in New Zealand tested the theory by reducing the working week to four days but still paying staff the wages for five with some success. It feels to me though that the whole question of a 4-day week is still pie in the sky, a bit like the annual debate of whether to put the clocks back; nice to talk about but way off in reality. The pandemic has raised the question again, so will be interesting to see if there are any real changes to our working week.

So, enough of the history lesson, what does a weekend look like for you? For some its getting out there and playing sport, socialising with friends, seeing family, shopping (which some say is the modern religion). For me, I have come to see the weekend as a mini break like a short holiday; I love what I do, but do get to Friday nights and love the anticipation of two days of not doing a lot, relaxing, being unstructured and seeing where the day will take me: it’s no longer cramming it full of activities, but more about taking time out to walk in nature, read a book, potter around the house; even though from time I can still hear my Dad’s voice telling me to “get out and make something of the day”.

I guess what I’m saying is that it’s at least worthy of reflection to think about how you spend your weekends and whether you come back into work on a Monday bright eyed and bushy tailed or at least well rested or whether it’s a real effort to get back into the reality of Monday morning not feeling revived.

Periodic Time out

This usually looks like holidays. It’s interesting that though there is a European approach to holidays, the approach in the USA is very different. Wikipedia helpfully sets out a table with all the countries around the world and the length of statutory holidays.

The United States is one of the meanest in holiday entitlement: there is no federal or state statutory minimum paid vacation or paid public holidays. Paid leave is at the discretion of the employers to its employees. Even though 77% of private employers offer paid vacation to their employees; full-time employees earn on average 10 vacation days.

I have always loved the idea of the Australian system on long term leave which I heard about when I lived there. In Australia, long service leave is an employee entitlement to an additional vacation on full pay after an extended period of service with an employer. A common entitlement is that employees who remain with the one employer for ten years are entitled to three calendar months paid leave. Some travellers I met in Australia talked about how much the longer break they took revived them, and gave them the energy to go back in and fall in love again with the work they do.

A cursory glance through this indicates that for most countries its typically somewhere between 20 and 30 days- effectively between 4 and 6 weeks.

I know a couple of clients who I have worked with who religiously take a holiday every 6-8 weeks as a “sanity break” whether that’s staying put at home or getting away on holiday. For me, it’s vital not just taking a break and being somewhere different (economics and pandemic allowing) but the distance we need from our day-to-day work to really reflect on how it’s all going for us; what’s working and why, what isn’t and why, and things we might do differently when we go back to work; a kind of re-set.

Another good trick I have seen with a couple of clients is booking time off during the working week with themselves; perhaps an hour a week to step back from the hurly burly, to reflect maybe through writing; often this is the same time each week which could be for example a Monday morning or a Friday afternoon to reflect on the previous week and plan how to have the best week ahead possible.



Ultimately, this is iterative I know, but I find sometimes with my coaching clients and in my own world, I get caught on a fast gerbil wheel, and it’s hard to get off. At its best our work provides us with purpose and meaning as well as economic return, but it allows us time to be complete people with a good life in and outside of work.

Less a new years resolution, and more a chance at the beginning of the year to reflect on what you want the year to look like for you. There is a TIME OUT EXERCISE that can help you take stock of your working day, your working week and periodic breaks away

Tips on virtual Coaching practice

Tips on virtual Coaching practice

In my emerging experience, both phone and video can work well for coaching. One isn’t better than the other, but they are different. One of the key things from a Coaches perspective is to approach virtual coaching work positively, rather than it being seen as a substitute for face to face work. Many Coaches in today’s world work internationally and exclusively via virtual means.Because of the recent coronavirus crisis, I, like many other Coaches have had to move to working exclusively on a virtual basis, and hand on heart it has certainly challenged my pre-conceptions about virtual coaching.

Many people assume that face-to-face coaching must be better than virtual coaching. A recent coaching study found no difference in the reported level of problem resolution for face-to-face and distance clients.  The strength of the working alliance between Coach and client was found to be especially helpful for problem resolution in virtual coaching, and Coaches self-reported strong levels of working alliance in both face-to-face and virtual approaches.

At a recent virtual Coaches network I attended (virtually of course!) there were many reasons given about why virtual Coaching is a positive and enriching experience for the client and Coach. For example:

  • The client might be more comfortable and at ease in a space that they know well
  • Both the client and the Coach are saving time from what could have been a long and protracted commute; this allows flexibility in the timing for the session and a broader range of options in how to run the session
  • There is the opportunity with most virtual coaching conversations to record them that the client can go back and listen to reflectively afterwards (whilst being cautious about data protection aspects that might arise)
  • Many Coaches actually prefer coaching remotely – paradoxically they are more able to be present than worried about their own capabilities as a coach (Do I look the part? How am I being perceived?)
  • The core components of coaching include things like presence (how we relate to others) and impact (creating a shift in the room): these can be achieved in both face to face and virtual coaching

Practical tips; before, during and closing the session

Before the session

  • Check out the technology for both you and your client to make sure it’s going to work! It’s important to make sure it works from both sides and you understand the functionality of the medium whether its Skype., Zoom or other platforms like Team Viewer; these all have their positives and challenges
  • Bear in mind your clients’ wi-fi may be glitchy (as various family members may be accessing entertainment at home!) What’s your back-up plan if this keeps happening? (e.g. revert to phone: ensure you have your client’s telephone number in case you need to switch to a telephone)
  • Log in to platform 10 mins before a session starts. Close off all other internet applications during the session, to manage your presence and also to ensure that this does not impact the transmission speed of your connection
  • Adjust your environment to help keep your focus.  Move phones and other potential distractions out of the way
  • Ensure that both you and the other person are in a private, comfortable space where you won’t be interrupted
  • Think about what you already know about your experience about connecting well on line as a “pre-session boost” to help get you ready for the session
  • Think about your energy levels: if you are a morning person it may be better to avoid booking a session later in the day and vice versa
  • To support any exploratory work, you can ask your client to have a journal, paper and pens ready

During the session

  • Create a chance to settle in opening the session for the client so they have the opportunity to get settled before you start on the work; perhaps questions like “where are you?” and “how are you arriving today?”
  • Contracting aspects: Whilst you are going to cover all the usual aspects of the session contract — confidentiality, time, how you will work together — you will also need to contract for the things that are different when you are working online (e.g. security and confidentiality)
  • Challenge your own assumptions around creativity in the coaching session; it’s different from face to face but you may well be able to find ways of working differently with clients; e.g. asking the client to use pen and paper to jot down some meaningful words for them, using the “whiteboard” facility that most virtual platforms have to share a model/framework
  • Effective coaching in any setting requires focused attention on the other person. That can be tough when we’re coaching virtually, because of the pervasiveness of multitasking. A virtual coaching conversation is a special kind of interaction — very different from a typical conference call or online meeting, where we can often just partly tune in and still get the gist. When we’re coaching, the most important details are easy to miss, so its about focus, and perhaps thinking about how many sessions you book in a day as it can be very intense

Wrapping up the session

  • Coaching conversations tend to be wide-ranging, which makes them more meaningful and valuable. But this also means you’ll want to leave some time between the end of the session and the next event on the calendar. This enables both you and the person you’re coaching to reflect on the conversation and deepen the learning
  • As you would normally do with a client informally at the end of a session, it would be good to check on how they found the coaching session, especially using the virtual environment, and any changes you might want to make for next time

Security and confidentiality

  • Absolute security in the digital world does not exist
  • Carefully considered decisions need to be made by: ensuring that the virtual coaching platforms are accessible and acceptable to clients, taking reasonable steps to ensure adequate levels of security for the type of service being provided, and being vigilant in avoiding new threats to security as they arise in a rapidly changing field of practice and technology
  • Threats to security typically arise from technological failures, the behaviour of people involved, or unauthorised intrusion by third parties. Having some awareness and mitigating these potential threats is important


Remember: we are wired to connect, and just because you are working virtually does not mean you will not attune to your client. My experience is that, once you relax and are fully present, you will be in flow with your client. The virtual approach may well be where the future of mainstream Coaching lies, even if some Coaches are already there.

Coaching supervision

Why Coaching supervision?

With the continued growth in Coaching over the last decade, regular supervision of Coaches is  becoming increasingly important. There are a wide variety of people training as Coaches and indeed some calling themselves Coaches with little experience or training. If we don’t have across the board professional training and ongoing development along with accreditation for Coaches, why would we as a profession look at having regular coaching supervision? After all there is little research showing that supervision improves the quality of coaching.

My own Coaching Supervisor who is a Master Coach and an accredited Coaching Supervisor who has written books on the subject thinks that as the coaching market matures, coaching supervision will become more and more important for Coaches to support their practice, but also for organisations commissioning coaching supervision who are likely to require evidence of training and accreditation. Her perspective is that “no-one is there in the room as we work with our clients.  For me supervision is our opportunity to stay in “conscious competence”… and when we do supervision in groups it accelerates our learning as we support group members in their reflections”. Tatiana Bachkirova at Oxford Brookes University talks about supervision as conscience: that our professional conscience should be the driver for regular reflection of our work; “supervisors are not priests who can help release your professional sins. They are respectful companions in your professional commitment to quality and who you give licence to challenge you.”

I think we could learn lots from other sectors like psychotherapy or social work where supervision (often a mandatory requirement) is embedded into professional practice and seen as crucially important to support the practitioners well-being, the quality of the work they do with clients and the application of ethics and due diligence.

Definitions and functions

Which brings us to what supervision is. There are many different definitions of coaching supervision that encompass elements of reflective practice, the context in which the coach is working and the sharing of expertise. A few of these are:

 “Supervision is a forum where supervisees review and reflect on their work in order to do it better” (Carrol 2007)

“Supervision is the process by which a Coach/Mentor/Consultant with the help of a Supervisor, who is not working directly with the client, can attend to understanding better both the client system and themselves as part of the client-coach/mentor system, and transform their work” (Hawkins and Smith 2007)

“Coaching supervision is a formal process of professional support which ensures continuing development of the coach and effectiveness of his/her coaching practice through interactive reflection, interpretative evaluation and the sharing of expertise” (Bachkirova, Stevens and Willis)

My own working definition of coaching supervision is “the opportunity to reflect on your own coaching practice in a safe space that will support you in your ongoing growth and development as a Coach”

The functions of supervision using Hawkins and Smith are often described as covering 3 different elements:

  • Normative: contributing to the quality of work and ethical decision making
  • Developmental: facilitating personal and professional development of the Coach
  • Restorative: providing emotional support to the Coach


Coaching Supervision models

The “CLEAR” Model

Probably the most basic model of supervision would be Hawkins “CLEAR” model. This is a straightforward sequential model much like the “GROW” coaching model working from contracting through to action and review. As with the GROW model it has limitations perhaps in its simplicity and lack of perspective that the more complex models have.

The 7 eyed model of supervision

Of the supervision models around, this is the one that speaks to me as the best all round model the most intuitive, and one that recognises the complexity of many different aspects: “eyes” or differing perspectives that are needed to reflect on work with coaching clients.

This model includes all the different aspects that can be focused on in supervision and the range of supervisory styles and skills needed for each area of focus. It does not follow a chronological order from 1-7. The table below simply indicates the most common way of moving through the modes.

It points out the way the systemic context of the coachee can be mirrored in the coaching relationship and how the dynamics of the coaching relationship can be mirrored in the supervisory relationship

Mode 1: Getting the coachee into the room
Mode 2 : The coach’s interventions
Mode 3: Relationship between coach and coachee
Mode 4: The coach’s awareness
Mode 6: Supervisor self-reflection (supervisor’s awareness)
Mode 5: The supervisory relationship
Mode 7: The wider context

So for example in Mode 1, getting the coachee into the room might include questions like…

  • What was the client like when they came into the session?
  • Replay the first five minutes when you first met this client? What do you notice?
  • What comes to mind when you think of this client?
  • What did you see/hear/feel during the session?
  • What is the coaching contract with this client?

Essentially The seven-eyed model, originally developed by Peter Hawkins and Robin Shohet, is commonly used by supervisors to help the Coach they are working with reflect on the effectiveness of their coaching practice. It can also be helpful to use the 7 eyes/perspectives as a Coach to help on your own internal reflection, especially if you have come out of a session where there have been some challenges, or a feeling that it hasn’t quite worked as well as you had hoped.


A very good You Tube clip is available on how to use the 7 eyed model that is worth a watch.


Seven Coaching conversations

An alternative approach is another 7 factored model or framework created by David Clutterbuck called “7 coaching conversations”, which looks at both the Coaches and the clients reflections before, during and after the coaching session(s).

Most coach training focuses on the session itself, rather than before and after reflection and imagining what the clients thoughts would be before and during the session. The effectiveness of the spoken dialogue in the session depends heavily on the other six conversations. The principle of the model is that building our competence in each of the conversations is essential in mastering the coaching role.

Clutterbuck posits that the coaching conversation is actually seven conversations that happen before the session, and during and after the session:

  1. My dialogue with myself before the session
  2. The client’s inner dialogue before the session
  3. My inner dialogue during the conversation
  4. The spoken dialogue
  5. The client’s inner dialogue during the conversation
  6. My reflection after the conversation
  7. The client’s reflection after the conversation

So for example, some of the questions a Coach Supervisor could ask themselves before the session are:

  • How have I helped so far?
  • What are my motivations in this relationship?
  • What is the “big picture” for this client?
  • Do I really understand what drives them?
  • What is this client avoiding?
  • What am I avoiding?
  • How do I feel about this relationship?
  • Am I looking forward to this meeting? (If not, what’s the issue and what should I be doing about it?)

Practical approaches to 1-1 and group supervision

In terms of the different approaches to supervision, I would like to refer to my own practice as a Coach in both the 1-1 and group approach to coaching supervision I practice; not I’m keen to say, as a perfect model but an example of the type of support coaching supervision can offer.

I work with Coaches 1-1 as a Coach Supervisor as a growing part of my coaching practice. I am finding that more Coaches are reaching out for coaching supervision, though this will take time to grow. I have coaching supervision myself with an experienced Master Coach and Coach Supervisor every 6 weeks, which really helps me looking at challenges with particular clients, but also wider systemic elements of my wider coaching practice looking at the coaching market place and continuing the building of my coaching business.

Supervision is becoming increasingly important for in-house Coaching schemes which provide different types of supervision support for internal Coaches. I provide the coaching supervision and training support for the Bucks Coaching Pool and the Harrow Coaching Pool which have Local Authorities and NHS Trusts involved. We currently have around 60 Coaches in the scheme but have plans to train a further 40 Coaches this year. As the scheme grows the role of supervision becomes increasingly important to provide ongoing and regular support to Coaches working with a wide and varied set of clients in different organisations in different levels of seniority.

In practical terms, there are quarterly Coaching Learning sets where groups of Coaches get together for both a learning and supervision experience. The Learning sets have a theory element focussing on a particular area, followed by supervision where each Coach brings a challenge they are facing with a client to talk through and get “air time” in the group for ideas and approaches. There will soon be trained Coach Supervisors in the pool that provide 1-1 supervision support to individual Coaches.

Finally, I wanted to create a group of like minded local Coaches to meet regularly to look at group supervision and other elements and now two years down the line have a thriving group.The Buckinghamshire Coaching Development Network provides a forum for local Coaches on a no cost basis to meet every two months to:

  • Provide joint supervision practice with other Coaches
  • Members take turns in providing a short professional development slot of interest to the group (e.g. going through a coaching tool, a particular framework, an article etc.)
  • The opportunity to talk through business development approaches to new business; what works and doesn’t work

I hope that the article brings up some thoughts for Coaches as to their own coaching supervision and what opportunities they give themselves for ongoing reflection. I do believe the importance of coaching supervision will continue to grow and become more integral in the world of coaching in the next few years.





Coaching Teams

Coaching Teams

Over the last couple of years, I have become increasingly involved in coaching teams in addition to 1-1 coaching work with people, and become more interested in the range of approaches to work effectively with Teams. I have also reflected that whilst certain principles seem to work, there are a number of different ways to go about the work; what works with one team often doesn’t work with another.

Chuck & Cindy describe team coaching as “an individual and team development process that uses an integrated combination of interventions to improve collaborative leadership skills, and team performance.”

Essentially, Team Coaching works with the Team as a system as opposed to a collection of individuals, and is an ongoing process to sustain change over time as opposed to a one off Team building event. I have increasing concerns about the idea of a “fix it all in one day” approach to team building, as time and time again the question of sustaining actions and behaviours agreed by the team at the initial day requires an ongoing level of reflection and time out from the team.

Team coaching helps people understand how to work better with others. It’s an effective method for showing teams how to reduce conflict and improve their working relationships. There are some Team coaching interventions that primarily focus on the interactions and working relationships: the way people act with their teammates, and the way they communicate with one another – these are important drivers of effective team performance. However, there are others that stress the need to start with clarifying the primary purpose of the team, its goals and objectives, and the role of the people in the team before looking at team dynamics and relationships.

Agreeing the metrics and assessment for the programme

My approach would be to ensure a strong level of alignment with organisational vision and strategy, and how the Team is planning to work towards that.  This makes the intervention easier to measure. Approaches I have used with Team coaching has been to re-visit the purpose and vision of the Team, and if necessary support the Team to create a Team Plan with objectives in the areas of strategy, finance, marketing, working with external stakeholders etc. It obviously depends on what the stated need of the Team is, but getting the team to focus  on some basic functions of the team is often important.

It is vital to include the “softer skills” development areas of the team such as improved team work and morale, enhanced communication skills or increased engagement from staff within the wider team (especially if the team being coached is a Leadership Team).

As far as the metrics for the Team coaching are concerned these may include areas such as:

  • Development of key leadership skills across the team
  • Improvement in relationships & increased trust
  • A sense of shared/common issues
  • Assessing how the coaching has provided a vehicle for culture change
  • The amount of time spent on “real/pressing” issues
  • Creation of  approaches to sustainability, such as long-term peer coaching

It is usually helpful to have a combination of team based task objectives and working relationships/team dynamics

Team Coaching Models

Most of the models I have researched and my own practise has covered some or all of the main steps listed below, and the diagram above is my suggested approach. These steps are indicative and not all steps are mandatory or sequential, depending on the needs of the Team.


Establish the foundation for the initiative; strategic objectives, nature of team dynamics, timeline

Diagnostic approaches

  • Often initial 1-1 confidential meetings with Team members to find out what works well about the team, what doesn’t and why; to establish their ideas on approaches that will work, and how they could be measured
  • Going into a Team development initiative of any kind without these having the opportunity to engage with the team is very hard

In terms of “diagnostic assessment” approaches, personality and behaviour assessments like Insights are good tools for improving a team’s understanding of its own dynamics, and they give team members a better understanding of why they react to their colleagues in certain ways. This new understanding helps them think about how they can relate to one another more effectively, at the same time that it breeds tolerance by helping people understand that different approaches may be valid in different situations.

360 reviews of team members is also a potentially useful starting point to help people understand themselves and how they work with others.

“Kick off”

  • Focus on the wider organisational aspect, as well as the team challenge
  • Create Team contract, including the metrics and assessment for the programme (individual and team)
  • Determine areas of focus and commitment for the sessions

Ongoing Coaching sessions

  • Group size – 6 to 8 is the ideal size for a team, with a maximum of around 11/12
  • Frequency – around once monthly
  • Duration – often around 6  months, though can be shorter or longer
  • Decision on how to run the sessions in terms of level of formality. Action Learning set approach focuses on improving questioning and reflection of team members and is proven to be a quick trust builder, but some sessions may be more formal than others, where a Coaching tool is used, like Insights or Belbin, or a Team Coaching wheel

What happens between sessions

  • Individuals often receive 1-1 coaching support  in between sessions
  • A sustainable way of encouraging ongoing coaching support is through peer coaching which helps keep focus between sessions, and accountability developed with peers
  • Members of the team are encouraged to exchange with direct reports and gain feedback
Assessment and sustainability
  • Its important to review the “distance traveled” of the Team coaching project for the whole Team and the individuals in it, and the strongest way to do this is to repeat the baseline assessment, whether its a 360 or psychometric
  • Its important to look at ways beyond the Team Coaching project that the reflective practice of the Team is sustained; e.g. regular reviews using Learning set principles, ongoing peer coaching

Example approaches

Creating Team values

360 reviews


A quick and innovative free  approach to Myers Briggs personality types

Traffic Light Model

Liz Scott recommends a traffic light model. If you want team members to give each other supportive and enlightening feedback then this is a great tool to use. “Feedback,” if given inappropriately can be incredibly damaging. It can seem like a personal attack. This can cause a defensive reaction and counter attack in return. However when a team is in a supportive frame of mind, team feedback is invaluable. It will deepen trust and develop support.

Spend some time developing the team dynamics before using the traffic light feedback model. The team often benefits from having a whole day working together.

Each team member is requested to both give feedback and to receive feedback. The feedback is facilitated by the coach. It’s also wise for the coach to take notes during the process.

This feedback process works best with small teams (six or fewer).

Each team member takes in turn on the ‘hot seat’. They cannot say anything, ask anything (unless they haven’t heard the comment) on any of the feedback they receive.

Once on the hot seat they listen to each team member giving feedback. The feedback is around what the team would like the person in the hot seat to ‘stop, start and continue’ doing.

The team member gets off the ‘hot seat’ and another team member takes their place.

The process of the traffic-light team coaching model

  1. Give each team member a post-it
  2. Write on the flip chart.

  Stop

  Start

  Continue

  1. Explain that in a moment each member of the team will sit on the ‘hot seat’ (put a seat out at the front of the room).
  2. The rest of the team will then take in turns to say one thing they would like this team member to ‘start, stop and continue’ doing.
  3. Once on the ‘hot seat’ that team member will listen to the feedback (without comment).
  4. Ask the team to look around the room and on each post-it to start jotting down things they would like each member of the team to ‘stop, start and continue’ doing.
  5. It’s likely that this will cause discomfort to some of the team members. I always say that the feedback that they give is not ‘the truth’ it is just a perception. The person on the receiving end can choose to ignore or take on board the feedback.
  6. Give the team 5 minutes to jot down some ideas.
  7. Ask the first volunteer to take the ‘hot-seat’
  8. As facilitator take notes to record the comments as part of your notes

Powerful Coaching questions

Powerful Coaching questions

It seems axiomatic that as Coaches we need to ask powerful questions that really stretch clients and get them to self-reflect and take responsibility for follow through. At a recent Coaching Learning set, Coaches were asking about “really good questions” in their coaching practice as well as the capacity for deep listening and reflection skills. I am a bit ambivalent in a way about the idea of “killer questions” or great questions as so much of coaching work is situational: you need to be able to react in the moment with the client. However, some forward thinking and reflection on how we use questions as a Coach is probably a good thing to do and to think about before a session.

Its also important to reflect on what we do with client’s responses; that is, how we go about really listening to what they have said. I have written an in-depth article on effective listening, that covers things like Scharmer’s 4 types of listening (from downloading through to generative listening) along with the complex skill of reflecting and paraphrasing back to the client at periodic intervals: this offers a synthesis of what they have said to prove understanding and give them the chance to hear back what they have articulated.

My personal favourite questions are ones like scale questions (to test out willingness to change/follow through and often on a scale of 1-10), the “can you tell me more about that?” that opens the clients experience up more, “what was the most helpful thing from today?” and “what would you like me to do differently” questions at the end of a session and “what would a good friend say to you?” about a challenge. The ability to use silence is also important as it gives people the chance to process the discussion, and generate new ideas.

Here are a few different types of questions and approaches:

1.    Coaching with metaphor questions

I’m a big fan of using metaphors in coaching, as long as the client is open to this approach and likes using images and metaphors. The article written by Angela Dunbar on coaching with metaphor is a good read. As a tool for coaching, the client’s metaphors give you an insight into their unique perception of their situation and their goals. When the client tells you that they can “see light at the end of the tunnel”, that is what they are experiencing. There is light for them, and they are in a tunnel.

With practice, the flow of questions can come very naturally. As an example, for the client who sees light at the end of the tunnel, you might ask: “And when you see light at the end of the tunnel, what would you like to have happen?” It might sound obvious to ask this, but we are all unique and some people may be afraid of the light, be happy to stay in the tunnel, or want to turn around and go the other way. Never assume you know what the client may want. The client could answer with: “I want to get out of the tunnel and be in the light” OK, it’s a clear goal. Stay with it and find out more about the outcome. Let the client get a real sense of how it would be to achieve their outcome.

“And when you get out of the tunnel, and you can be in the light, is there anything else about that light? “They may tell you it’s warm, or bright or whatever. They are developing their sense of what it would be like. “And when you can be in the light, what kind of ‘you’ is that ‘you’?” The descriptions they give may highlight other metaphors or feelings, which you can continue to explore.

“I feel relieved, like a great weight has been lifted from my shoulders”. “What kind of lifted is that lifted?” or “When you feel relieved, whereabouts do you feel relieved?” (all feelings have a location somewhere, within or for some, even just outside their bodies) or “What kind of weight is that weight?”

Once the outcome has been really explored, generally you will be able to see/sense/notice that the client is ‘connected’ to a change the metaphor question has helped to prompt.


2.    A useful sequence of questions in coaching

A sequence of questions are typically situation specific, but there are times where it’s useful to think about related questions that help move the client forward, such as:

  • What’s the issue?
    • What makes it important NOW?
    • How important is it on a 1-10 scale?
    • How much energy do you have for a solution on a scale of 1-10?
    • Who owns the issue?
    • What have you tried already?
    • In an ideal world what would be happening around this issue? How would you know that it had been resolved?
    • What’s standing in the way of that ideal outcome?
    • What’s going right here – even if it’s only a bit?
    • Imagine you are at your most resourceful, what do you say to yourself about this issue?
    • What are the options for action here?
    • What criteria will you use to judge the options?
    • Which option seems the best one against those criteria?
    • So, what’s the next step?
    • When will you take it?
    • What will get in the way of you taking it?
    • So, when will you take it?


3.    The good old GROW model!

I know it seems a bit old hat these days to go back to the simplicity of the “GROW” model, but there are still useful sequential elements to working through the different stages of the model and the type of questions in each of them, such as:

Goals –

  • What do you want to achieve?
  • What will that enable you to do, that you can’t do today?
  • What are the expectations of others?
  • Who else needs to know about the plan? How will you inform them?

Reality –

  • What is the reality of the current situation?
  • What’s stopped you reaching this goal already?
  • What are the real barriers and what are the assumptions?
  • Do you know anyone who has achieved this goal?
  • What can you learn from them?

Options –

  • What are the options for you in this situation?
  • What could you do as a first step?
  • What else could you do?
  • What would happen if you did nothing?

Will –

  • Where does this goal fit in with your personal priorities at the moment?
  • What obstacles do you expect to meet? How will you overcome them?
  • How committed are you to this goal? 1(not at all) – 10 (100% motivated)?
  • What steps do you need to take to achieve this?


4. Questions for clients with different challenges

I think these sorts of questions come into play when working with clients with specific challenges. One of the approaches I often use when working with clients thinking about career change are around reviewing their career to date, and what learning they have gained about positive and challenging experiences:

  • Have you focussed work in any particular sectors, or in a particular area of work? If so, does this feel like a positive or a negative?
  • How much of the work has been managerial, and/or project focussed without supervision? Have you enjoyed this aspect?
  • Are there any themes that emerge for you in “pressing the rewind button” that you can use as threads for looking forward to your next career move (e.g. autonomy, working in a team)?
  • What is your overriding feeling about your career to date and the direction it has taken?

Another area which is potentially a bit more contentious in the field of coaching might be where you are working with a client who has self-confidence issues. Some of this could potentially relate to their early year development. As a Coach you might use the “autobiography” approach to understand the historical context of the lack of confidence; where it originated. Relationships with authority figures and peers evolve from our relationships with our parents and parent-figures such as Teachers. This is a key aspect of relationships at work-it will have a fundamental effect on approaches to work and a Coach may need to have some glimmering of understanding about this as the client sees it.

You will not need to ask all these questions, but these are some useful ones.There is always the warning in the autobiography approach that coaching isn’t psychotherapy and shouldn’t dwell too long on the past:

  • What was your place in the family; birth order?
  • What effect has your birth order had on you: e.g. the experience of being an only child?
  • How did you feel about school?
  • How do you get on with your siblings?
  • What effect has marriage/partners relationships had on your life?
  • (For clients with children) what has the experience of being a parent done?
  • What did the experiences of higher education do for you?
  • How did you make your career choices? What helped you decide to move on from earlier jobs?
  • What themes and patterns do you see emerging from the story as you have told it? What are the links to Coaching we will be doing? (not all clients see links; if so that’s fine, just move on)

5. Solutions based coaching questions

Solutions focused questions can be a really effective way of moving a client towards a solution rather than dwelling on the issue or the causes of the problem, and sometimes a client can reach a solution in a very short period of time if you take this approach.

Here are some examples comparing problem focused questions with their solutions focused alternatives:

Problem focused: What is the problem?
Solutions focused: What would you like to achieve from this session?

Problem focused: What is hindering you?
Solutions Focused: What progress have you made so far?

Problem focused: How long have you been experiencing difficulties?
Solutions focused: When in the past have you achieved a positive outcome?



There are a multitude of questions that can be used in coaching, and these are just a few examples. Ultimately it feels important to stay curious as a Coach, and know that powerful questions do help clients connect to what they are feeling and move them towards resolution.

I’m not sure there are any magic questions (although this Coaching questions suggests there is!), but it always helps to think about what questions you might ask a client before the session, in the session itself, or reflecting after the session thinking about the next one to come.

Effective listening skills

Effective listening skills


I find it amazing in the modern world, where we have developed so far in technology, our understanding of history, and our sophisticated approach to communication and modern approaches to learning, that so many people still appear not to know how to listen well. Think about the last 2 or 3 social engagements you have been to, and whether you felt listened to, or even the last 1-1 with a friend or colleague. Depending on the study being quoted, we remember a dismal 25-50% of what we hear. That means that when you talk to your boss, colleagues, customers or spouse for 10 minutes, they only really hear 2½-5 minutes of the conversation!

Its interesting to reflect on whether listening is an intuitive skill, or something you can learn. I believe there is an element of both, but even if you aren’t a good natural listener, you can train yourself. The ability to hear is typically innate, but the ability to listen well is a skill that needs to be developed and practiced. Listening means paying attention and making a conscious effort to process what you hear. It is one of our most important skills and it is also one of the most overlooked. We often take our ability to listen for granted, even knowing that it plays a major role in good communication.

Nature has given us one tongue and two ears: the first ear is so we may listen to what the speaker says, and the other ear to listen to how the speaker says it.” Epicatus. 

Road blocks to listening

It’s true that there are several blocks to good listening, that we can all look at and acknowledge we are guilty of at times, perhaps when we are anxious, tired, or even that the person we are “listening” to is well…boring and long winded!

  • Comparing: “when that happened to me”
  • Mind reading: trying to guess what the other person is really thinking or feeling
  • Rehearsing: what you will say next
  • Judging: you don’t really listen because you have already made up your mind
  • Dreaming: only half listening because something that they have said triggers a memory for you
  • Advising: you are the great problem solver, searching for the solution to their problems
  • Derailing: changing the subject and taking the conversation off in another direction
  • Being right: you cannot hear the criticism, if someone is feeding something back to you that you don’t like. If you cannot admit mistakes, you cannot change…

Most people have some aware of the classic communication research carried out by Professor Mehrabian that 55% of communication is non verbal (your body language, gestures, expressions, how you stand or sit), 38% is vocal (tone and pitch of your voice, speed at which you speak), and only 7% verbal (the words you use).

The value of Mehrabian’s theory relates to communications where emotional content is significant, and the need to understand it properly is great. This is often applicable in management and business, where motivation and attitude have a crucial effect on outcomes, but also has wider application for all our approaches to listening, and being able to pick up cues (and “clues”!) from the speaker.

“I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.” Ernest Hemingway


A listening theory

There are some really interesting ideas on listening from Otto Scharmer in his new book “Theory U; leading from the future as it emerges”. He describes 4 types of listening:

Listening 1: Downloading

“Yeah, I know that already.” He calls this type of listening “downloading”—listening by reconfirming habitual judgments. When you are in a situation where everything that happens confirms what you already know, you are listening by downloading.

Listening 2: Factual

“Ooh, look at that!” This type of listening is factual or object-focused: listening by paying attention to facts and to novel or disconfirming data. You focus on what differs from what you already know. Factual listening is the basic mode of good science. You let the data talk to you. You ask questions, and you pay careful attention to the responses you get.

Listening 3: Empathic

“Oh, yes, I know exactly how you feel.” This deeper level of listening is empathic listening. When we are engaged in real dialogue and paying careful attention, we can become aware of a profound shift in the place from which our listening originates. Sometimes, when we say “I know how you feel,” our emphasis is on a kind of mental or abstract knowing. But to really feel how another feels, we have to have an open heart. Only an open heart gives us the empathic capacity to connect directly with another person from within. When that happens, we feel a profound switch as we enter a new territory in the relationship; we forget about our own agenda and begin to see how the world appears through someone else’s eyes.

Listening 4: Generative

“I can’t express what I experience in words. My whole being has slowed down. I feel more quiet and present and more my real self. I am connected to something larger than myself.” This type of listening moves beyond the current field and connects us to an even deeper realm of emergence. He calls this level of listening “generative listening,” or listening from the emerging field of future possibility. This level of listening requires us to access not only our open heart, but also our open will: our capacity to connect to the highest future

Scharmer’s premise is that whilst there is usefulness in all 4 levels, that when you choose to listen from Level 3, empathetic listening, that your perspective is redirected to seeing the situation through the eyes of another, and Level 4 (generative listening) you realise that by the end of the conversation you are no longer the same person you were when it began. This may be an extreme aspiration, but why not? Occasionally, I have felt this both as a talker being listened to and grappling with something close to my heart and as a Coach listening to clients, and in some strange way, conscious of it happening at the time.

The bottom line is that listening is hard work! This is where you make a conscious effort to hear not only the words that another person is saying but, more importantly, to try and understand the total message being sent: you make a point of finding out what people think rather than making assumptions.  However, it’s also often true that people who’ve listened first tend to get listened to, when they speak.

 “An essential part of true listening is the discipline of setting aside ones own prejudices, frames of reference and desires, so as to experience the speakers world from the inside” Scott Peck

Following are some keys to listening well:

1. Give 100% Attention

Prove you care by suspending all other activities.

2. Respond

Responses can be both verbal and nonverbal (nods, expressing interest) but must prove you received the message, and more importantly, prove it had an impact on you. Speak at approximately the same energy level as the other person…then they’ll know they really got through and don’t have to keep repeating.

3. Prove understanding

To say “I understand” is not enough. People need some sort of evidence or proof of understanding. Prove your understanding by occasionally restating the gist of their idea or by asking a question which proves you know the main idea. The important point is not to repeat what they’ve said to prove you were listening, but to prove you understand. The difference in these two intentions transmits remarkably different messages when you are communicating.

4. Prove respect

Prove you take other views seriously. It seldom helps to tell people, “I appreciate your position” or “I know how you feel.” You have to prove it by being willing to communicate with others at their level of understanding and attitude. We do this naturally by adjusting our tone of vice, rate of speech and choice of words to show that we are trying to imagine being where they are at the moment.

Listening to and acknowledging other people may seem deceptively simple, but doing it well, particularly when disagreements arise, takes a combination of true talent, discipline and effort. As with any skill, listening well takes plenty of practice. It would be wonderful if more of the message of the usefulness and power of good listening could be spread…

How good a listener are you?

An interesting exercise called PERSONAL LISTENING HABITS ASSESSMENT here that you can complete, and talk through with someone to reflect on your listening skills, what you do well, and what you could improve.

My Coaching journey

My Coaching journey

The idea of this article came from talking to a good Coaching friend Annie Kimblin about the idea of writing a coaching book. We have got to a place where the book idea is in gestation and may or may not happen in the future. In the meantime, one of the areas we both had a particular interest in was reflecting on our Coaching journeys, how and why we have ended up as Coaches and how we can be the best we can possibly be in our work.

Professional background; a roundabout journey…

I talked to someone recently who had spent 35 years of their working life at Sainsbury’s and took me back to the early 1980s when I started out in my career. I started at Sainsbury’s as a raw and green Graduate Trainee after University not really having much of a clue as to what I wanted to do. Whilst its wasn’t for me as a company, I learnt about organisation skills, managing people, not to mention sheer hard work and a long hour’s culture. So much so that the next 2 years I spent traveling around the world, working in USA, New Zealand and Australia! I came back and did project management and marketing roles for British Telecom and Allied Dunbar, and then towards the end of my twenties, went into working in the voluntary sector, and a spell teaching in Further and Higher Education. Reflecting back, it’s what I would call an emergent approach, knowing that I liked working with and supporting people, but unsure where best these skills could be utilised.

After the hopping around in my twenties, my thirties brought some more focus, working in health promotion in the NHS at national and local level for a few years, until I joined a “Training and Enterprise Council” (TECs as they were known) to support all sorts of organisations through a national standard of good practice in developing people. I did this for the best part of 7 years as an Executive, Manager and ultimately Operations Director. On reflection it’s when things started to click for me, and I found at least the ball park area of work I wanted to work in; supporting people to become the best they can be but probably supporting people from outside an organisation on a freelance basis rather than internally.

Myself and my Co-Director set up in business in 2001: I have now been running Crowe Associates with Sally for nearly 19 years, and truly love what I do, a mixture of 1-1 and Team coaching and coaching training, along with some group facilitation. It’s not been a smooth planned journey and absolutely not incremental and linear, but I value the fact that I didn’t get stuck doing something that passed the time and paid the bills; work has always been a vocation for me, something I need to be passionate about. I also have a sense that with growing self-awareness, you find the career journey you need to be on; the changes come when you are ready for them, and not beforehand.

Becoming a Coach

Whilst I was a line Manager and Director I managed a lot of people and started to understand at least implicitly that I was involved in coaching them; learning that I wasn’t doing the actual work myself anymore and my role as a senior Manager was about enabling others to deliver.

Three years down the line from becoming freelance I signed up to do the Oxford Brookes post graduate Coaching and Mentoring course. This was a solid and well organised course heavy on coaching theory (with some underlying therapeutic theory) and a lot of reflective practice. We also had to find coaching clients to work with and have regular supervision practice as we found our feet as Coaches.

Since 2004, I think I have worked with well over 350 coaching clients and trained in excess of 200 Coaches to become in house Coaches supporting others in their organisations. There has been a wide range of challenges that people have come into coaching to work on; career change, building confidence in their leadership, work on resilience in ever changing organisational dynamics to name a few. I have also found that some clients have worked through a coaching programme over several months and developed but have needed a bit of “coaching top up” a year or two down the line.

My own philosophy of coaching practice is a holistic approach to coaching to enable clients to make desirable and beneficial changes in both their professional and personal lives that help them develop and grow. I believe that for any human endeavour to grow and flourish, there are a complex mix of psychological and practical factors that help sustain real change.

“Sharpening the saw”

Its fascinating looking at both the training and regulation of the coaching and psychotherapy sectors to see what a wide spectrum of accreditation approaches there are. It seems that a lot of people are able to call themselves professional Coaches, some without much in the way of training and qualifications, or through a very short coaching course. There is no explicit requirement of people to have formal accreditation to become a Coach. At the other end of the spectrum is psychotherapy, where people often spend 5 years going through rigorous training, supervision, their own therapy and building up 150 of hours of client contact before they can call themselves a therapist.

For me, a middle way has worked well by completing a post graduate Coaching and Mentoring course. I supplemented this a few years ago by gaining Executive Coach accreditation with the Association for Coaching and am a member of the Association, which requires ongoing continuous professional development. Around two years ago, I set up a local Coaching network with a focus on development and supervision which is working really well. We meet every 6 weeks and have a theory input on some aspect of coaching from one of the group, followed by a supervision session on our work with clients, and a general catch up on our work.

I have long had an interest in the underlying aspects and motivations of people’s behaviour. Several years ago, I completed a foundation course in counselling skills, and also a foundation course in group analytic psychotherapy. I took this one set further a couple of years ago and started training as a psychotherapist. I did this for 18 months and started seeing clients but struggled with level of work involved and keeping the day to day business going; I also felt that I was “good enough” as a Coach that can when the situation requires it, work deeply with people, as well as supporting self awareness and responsibility for action. I do feel that a sound psychological understanding of the areas of counselling and psychological therapies are an important foundation that enhance my coaching practice.

The next few years

Its illuminating to reflect that I have inhabited a structured work life over many years, helping organisations plan for the future, putting in place strategic and human resources plans and performance management systems, but in the last few years I have moved into much more fluid ways of working focussing on personal development, coaching, and working with groups looking at group dynamics and how best people work with one another.

I’m reminded of the Papua New Guinea saying: “knowledge is only rumour until it becomes part of the muscles”. I have moved away from more rigid planning approaches and embrace much more the interlinking of intuition and reflection with a modicum of planning, rather than using planning to be in the driving seat. I have always liked Peter Drucker’s thought that “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. I know from my approach to fitness that you can have all the plans in the world, but they can fail without the intuition to understand and self reflect, and deal with inbuilt “recidivism” of having several goes at making changes.

The future for me in terms of work will be about 1-1 and team coaching and continuing to support the in-house Coaching programmes I have work on with several organisations. I am currently working towards formal accreditation as a Coach Supervisor.

Final reflections; why do I coach?

It’s an important question to ask of ourselves in the so called helping professions; why do we do what we do? There are several answers to that question for me. I get a huge kick out of people self actualising and overcoming barriers in their lives. Coaching is a privilege; a unique window into someone else’s life and their professional and personal journey.

I trust that I have enough self-awareness and humility to understand that I also get a huge amount out of doing the work. There is something about Jung’s archetype of the wounded healer in the work; I help people with the things I need to work on myself. I also believe that whilst we are doing our utmost to help clients, we get the clients we ourselves need.

I hope the article has prompted some thoughts for you as a Coach or thinking about becoming a Coach. A few questions you might ask yourself are:

  • Where has your professional journey taken you to date? What themes are emerging as you reflect back on it, if you “press the rewind button”?
  • What was it that took you into coaching? Why do you coach? Or if someone considering coaching, why do want to become a Coach?
  • How do you “sharpen the saw” and keep yourself continuously developing?
  • What do the next few years of coaching practice look like for you?


Coaching skills for Managers

Coaching skills for Managers


Line managers are increasingly expected to coach staff and can have a powerful influence on their teams and the organisation as a whole when they adopt a coaching style of management.
As a way of managing people, coaching differs from the traditional corporate ‘command and control’ approach in the following ways:

  • Collaborating instead of controlling
  • Delegating more responsibility
  • Talking less, listening more
  • Giving fewer orders, asking more questions
  • Giving specific feedback instead of making judgements

This is not simply a case of ‘being nicer’ to people – delegated responsibility brings pressure to perform and coaching Managers maintain a rigorous focus on goals and results.

Simply put, coaching means asking questions, not simply to gather facts but to elicit solutions, feelings, ideas and new thoughts from the person being coached. If the objective is to develop employees, asking them questions challenges them to think harder and more broadly about issues, thereby enlarging their perspective and improving their reasoning skills. When the need is to make decisions, the same coaching skills can generate better solutions. The skill of coaching is in being able to ask questions that help people open up, and bring into play a wider circle of ideas and expertise.

Some people argue that it is impossible for a Manager to act as a coach, given her position of authority over her team. While authority is an important issue, it need not be an insurmountable obstacle – as long as there is genuine trust and respect in the working relationship. It is also a fact that coaching frequently takes place between peers and even upwards on occasion, with some enlightened bosses happy to be coached by their team members.

In his book Coaching for Performance John Whitmore raises the issue of managerial responsibility and authority, and asks ‘Can the Manager, therefore, be a coach at all?’:The answer is yes, but it demands the highest qualities of that Manager: empathy, integrity and detachment, as well as a willingness, in most cases, to adopt a fundamentally different approach to his staff: he may even have to cope with initial resistance from some of his staff, suspicious of the motives or perhaps having got used to a “dependency” authoritarian style.

CIPD Research

Coaching has consistently come in Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s (CIPD) surveys as a key way to motivating and helping individuals and teams to solve issues, improve performance and develop skills and confidence in the workplace.

In a recent survey of over 600 HR specialists and line Managers, people were asked what skills they need to be coaching Managers and what influences coaching management approach.

Two related features of a coaching style of management were identified: primary coaching characteristics, which focus on performance, and mature coaching characteristics, which focus on empowerment. Primary coachingcharacteristics comprise: a development orientation, a performance orientation, effective feedback processes and successful planning and goal-setting activities. Mature coaching characteristics, which are also associated with a participative management style, include: using ideas from team members, powerful questioning, team-based problem solving and shared decision-making.

Mature coaching characteristics are more likely to be achieved by those in more senior positions, who often have more “discretionary time” and are less caught up in the operational challenges that dominate life for line managers.

Coaching by line Managers is associated with levels of manager self-confidence and good Manager/team relationships. At the same time, these factors may encourage Managers to engage more often in coaching behaviours.

Time constraints are the most significant barrier to achieving a coaching style of management, but organisational culture and a lack of confidence to deal with difficult people are also inhibitors.

Clarity in coaching roles and expectations, senior management ownership of coaching as a business issue and top management role-modelling of coaching characteristics are all important ingredients of a coaching culture.

What Coaching Managers do

Managers have many responsibilities; coaching is among the most important. Coaching does not simply correct today’s problem; it helps keep the problem from resurfacing. The employee not only understands the goal, but can teach it to others. Coaching may take longer than correcting, which is a “quick fix,” but it is longer-lasting. It builds a body of understanding, and, if done well, helps build a workplace culture.

How does a Manager shift from a directive approach to Manager as Coach? 

1. Managers know their staff. They pay attention to their work and to them as human beings. They never make assumptions about the motives that drive the individuals’s words or actions. They take time to learn the person’s hopes, fears, and history.

2. Managers check their egos at the door. They resist trying to impress staff with their knowledge. Their satisfaction comes not from hearing someone say “how do you know so much?” but in seeing the individual grow his or her skills. When coaching is done well, learners believe they personally have discovered ideas and answers, hence, they may never acknowledge the Managers’s contribution. And that should be just fine with the Manager.

3. Managers ask questions. What did you see out there? What did you like most about the assignment? What’s causing you concern? How would you like to approach the problem? Who else might we want to include? Is there another way to look at this? What would happen if we turned things upside down?

4. Managers listen completely. They resist the temptation to give instant advice or answers, even if they have them at the tip of their tongue. They give the individual time to get a point out fully, and only then work to develop a coaching conversation. They resist phone calls, door knocks, and the errant material lying on top of their desks. When coaching is underway, the most important gift a Manager gives is complete attention.

5. Managers are overall, positive. They emphasize growth and goodness. They catch people doing things right and reward them with praise. Managers are not insincere or flattering; they are genuine and specific in their praise. They give the individual details about what is being praised and why. They do not shy away from honest feedback about things that need strengthening, but even critical feedback is framed in a non-threatening manner.

6. Managers look for “teaching moments.” They are always on the alert for opportunities to reinforce values and skills. These are teaching moments. They may happen in formal meetings or casual conversations; in bringing people together, in calling upon a person to share the “how I did it” of a success story with others, through department-wide memos or personal notes. But when it comes to teaching moments, Managers are careful: they praise in public, and criticise in private.

7. Managers inspireYou may not think of yourself as an inspirational figure, and your humility is laudable. But even the most humble leaders are known for their values. People around them know what they stood for. What do you stand for? It can take courage to be inspirational, to overcome your own fears.People will watch what you do, more than what you say.

8. Managers are responsible risk-takers. They know the rules of the road so well that they don’t fear an occasional detour. They celebrate creativity that respects values but tries things a different way. They reward innovation. They aren’t afraid to laugh at themselves or look foolish to help get an important point across. While helping others grow, they are always challenging themselves to do the same. They do not fear change or challenge. They do not hesitate to say “I’m sorry” when they make mistakes. And even the best do.

What’s in it for Managers?

It’s probably fairly obvious that coaching benefits the people being coached – but what about the Manager? If you are a busy Manager, can you afford the time and effort required, when you already have plenty of other demands to cope with?

Coaching is not a case of ‘giving up’ your time and energy to helping others achieve their goals and solve their problems – it will also benefit you in the following ways:

A more committed team: empowerment is a powerful motivator. When you make a genuine effort to include people in setting their own goals, making decisions and implement their own ideas, they are likely to become more committed and focused at work.

Better team performance: because of its dual functions of managing performance and developing people, coaching leads to better individual and collective performance. The ongoing learning process means that the upward curve can get steeper over time.

Better working relationships: good coaching promotes trust and collaboration, and leads to better working relationships. It doesn’t mean you become everyone’s best friend, but it does mean working relationships can get easier and more enjoyable (or in some cases at least less stressful) for all concerned.

Better ideas: when you get into the habit of asking questions to draw out people’s creativity, you may be pleasantly surprised at the quality of ideas your people start generating. After a while, you may not even need to ask every time – they will get into the habit of bringing you suggestions.

Better information: if you are genuinely coaching people in a collaborative, open spirit, people will feel more confident in coming to you with vital information – including telling you the ‘bad news’ while there is still time to do something about it.

Investing time to gain time: there is no doubt that in the short term it’s often quicker to ‘take charge’ and give orders instead of coaching. That’s fine for ‘fire fighting’, but in the long term, the more you direct, the more people will rely on you for directions, and the more of your time will be swallowed up by it. If you invest time in coaching however, over time your people will require less and less direction, and you will be confident in delegating more and more to them – freeing up your time for the tasks only you can accomplish.

What might it look like in practice?

Suppose someone comes to you with a story of something that’s gone wrong. As a good Manager/coach, there are three useful things to do at this point:

LISTEN to the story – get the details, express concern, show how important it is by giving excellent attention.

AFFIRM the bringer of the bad news – let them know how important it is that they raised this issue, what you’re impressed by about them, their speed of action, concern for customers, etc.

TURN THE CORNER from focusing on what’s wrong to focusing on what’s wanted.

Some good questions that can help here include:

• “So, instead of that, what you want is…..?” (let them finish the sentence)

• “What do you want to have happen next time?”

• “What would be better than that, for everyone?”

The individual may not have thought about this, being focused on what’s wrong. They may fall silent for a moment. Let them. Give them plenty of time to think about it. As always, a period of silence here is a good sign for the Manager Coach; there is thinking going on.

Expand the answer by asking, “What else?” to get more detail. Then ask about others’ perspectives on what would be preferable.

Reflections and practical Tools

Managing in a coaching style is ultimately about benefits to the team, the individual team, members and the Manager, and could even be seen as enlightened self interest as an approach.

Its important to say that this style of management isn’t the only one, and the principle of “situational leadership” an important caveat; there will be times as a Manager to be directive.There is good evidence though, that using a predominantly coaching style brings medium-long term benefits to all concerned.

As always, the approach sits best in an enlightened organisational context, where Senior Managers fundamentally believe in the approach, and where there is a learning culture of training for Managers, along with a recognition of the importance of the key HR practices of supervision, appraisal and regular team communication.

Leadership Styles Questionnaire 2013 looks at your leadership style in the context of 4 different styles, and reflect on what situations you might need to flex that style dependent on the person and the context.

If you want to go one step further and gain feedback on what your Team thinks of your leadership style, plus a simple feedback “start,stop,continue” exercise download the Leaderships Styles Informal 360 review exercise.

Why we need introverts

Why we need introverts

I came across this article in the online Guardian based on a book by Susan Cain, and think it makes some really interesting points. For me, there is some difference between how I am at work and at home (much more extroverted at work), but probably most naturally what I would define as a “gregarious introvert”. Continue reading

The Co-Active Coaching model

The Co-Active Coaching Model


The Co-Active approach comes from  “Co-Active Coaching – New skills for coaching people toward success”, by Laura Whitworth, Karen & Henry Kimsey-House and Phillip Sandahl, and offers a different approach to the “GROW” model we know and love…! Continue reading

What Jung would have made of the world today

What Carl Jung would have made of the world today

I came across this article on the BBC web site, and was intrigued, so have reproduced it in its entirety:

“The afternoon of life must have a significance of its own and cannot be merely a pitiful appendage of life’s morning,”

Carl Gustav Jung died 50 years ago today. Alongside Sigmund Freud, he is arguably one of the two people of the 20th century who most shaped the way we think about who we are. But what would he make of the 21st century so far, asks Mark Vernon. Continue reading

Coaching skills overview

Coaching Skills overview

This overview offers a definition of Coaching with a detailed fact sheet, as well as additional pages you can look at which offer an overview of other frameworks of support, such as Transactional Analysis and NLP.

Continue reading

Coaching overview articles

Coaching overview articles

“Coaching is a conversation with a purpose, also a space where someone can think through what is going on for them/an opportunity to do ‘great thinking’’ (Starr 2008)

The work I have done with various clients in 1-1 and Team Coaching projects over the last few years, has been the most satisfying and enjoyable part of my work. Its when I feel “in the flow” and doing what I was born to do. My practice has been helped by completing a post Graduate Coaching and Mentoring qualification at Oxford Brookes University, gaining membership and Executive Coach accreditation of the Association for Coaching, along with various therapeutic trainings in psychotherapy, counselling and constellations theory.

The work I do with people varies from individuals looking to change career, building confidence, helping people get hold and become comfortable with a new role, and other areas such as helping developing their businesses.

This section pulls together articles on areas like coaching skills, coaching models and approaches, and is aimed at clients interested in the models used in the work as well as people working as Coaches.

Please select the resources you are interested in from the menu on the right hand side.