The road to coaching | Part 1: The first hurdle

To learn and progress often means to have ones presuppositions exposed and challenged. Although I expected this, i’m not sure I anticipated such a challenge so early in my journey to coaching. The first hurdle I must clear is the concept summarised in this extract from Coaching For Performance: 

“That our beliefs about the capability of others have a direct impact on their performance has been adequately demonstrated in a number of experiments from the field of education. Unless a coach believes that people possess more capability than they are currently expressing, he will not be able to help them express it.”

Whitmore, J. (1992) Coaching For Performance. 3rd ed. Nicholas Brealey Publishing. 

Although this idea is fascinating and illuminating, it’s not accepting the premise that I find challenging. The challenge is to my own presuppositions; I tend to believe that other peoples abilities are fairly limited! Even as I write these words I am aware of how harsh that sounds, however I would guess that it’s not a massively uncommon belief, even if it’s a subconscious one for many. Furthermore, I would estimate that an even larger number hold this belief in relation to their own abilities, thinking that there is a very definite ceiling on what they can achieve. 

Where do these limiting beliefs come from? As I have reflected on this question, I have come to see at least two important factors at play; the evidence of experience, and the narrative of “talent”.

Let’s consider first the evidence of experience. Clearly not everybody does achieve greatness. A huge number of people in our lives, whether peripherally or more closely, don’t seem to perform at a very high level. A simple outlook might conclude that don’t equals can’t.  And then there is me. Maybe I don’t perform at a very high level, or have experienced failures and set backs which have lead me to conclude that I am not capable. Once I believe this about myself then it is totally rational for me to apply this world view to those around me. 

The second consideration is the narrative of “talent”. There is a healthy debate to be had around the idea of nature verses nurture. I wrote a relatively extensive essay on this topic during my degree in professional musicianship. I studied the literature and interviewed music educators in order to gain some insight into their view on whether some students exhibited levels of performance that must be attributed to something beyond discipline, or opportunity, or passion. My conclusion looked something like this:

Talent = Natural Predisposition + Opportunity + Passion

Natural predisposition – Usain Bolts physiology is perfectly designed for sprinting. He has the perfect combination of fast and slow twitch muscle fibres, enabling him to explode out of the blocks and maintain his pace through the finish line. He is tall and lean, giving him long strides and an outstanding power to weight ratio. His reaction times are blistering, so he never gets a bad start. We could go on, but the point is natural predisposition is real, and it makes a huge difference to high performance. 

Opportunity – If Usain Bolt was never introduced to the sport of sprinting, never coached, never provided the equipment or the space or the time to work on his craft, then he would not have broken the world record. He may not have even raced at all. 

Passion – If Bolt had the natural predisposition, and the opportunity, but did not have the desire to race, then his performance would either be severely compromised by a lack of intense training and commitment, or altogether non existent if he decided not to participate!  

So these things matter. I don’t believe that anyone can go and break the world record for the one hundred metre sprint, just as I don’t believe that anyone is capable of being a CEO of a transnational corporation. But perhaps I am not required to go that far.

“A coach must think of his people in terms of their potential, not their performance. A coach must believe and recognise that ordinary people do extraordinary things when they have to. The question is, is crisis the only catalyst? And how long are we able to sustain extraordinary performance?”

Whitmore, J. (1992) Coaching For Performance. 3rd ed. Nicholas Brealey Publishing. 

In philosophy, Aristotle distinguished between twin ideas of an actual infinite and a potential infinite. Actual infinity is complete and definite, and consists of an infinite number of elements. Potential infinity is never complete: elements can be always added, but never infinitely many. Sometimes it is helpful to postulate infinity as a limit even when we know that an actual infinite is not possible. 

Perhaps we ought to regard peoples potential as a potential infinite. Theoretically we know that a person has limits, their capability can only go so far. However, It seems sensible to think that there is never a case where a persons performance could no longer be fined tuned. Therefore, as long as we are able to continue adding elements, fine tuning a persons performance, then we are able to conceive of their performance as unlimited, and their potential as potentially infinite. 

That’s a lot of thinking, but it gets me over the first hurdle. Only a potentially infinite number of hurdles to go! 

The road to coaching | My journey from novice to pro coach in real time!

When I was a child I dreamed of growing up and becoming a coa… Hold on, lets try that again. 

When anyone ever asked me “what do you want to do when you grow up?’, I always said the same thing without hesitation, I would love to be a coa… Okay, third time lucky. 

The truth is, I didn’t dream of one day becoming a coach when I was a child. In fact it’s taken me until my mid twenties to even understand the basics of what a coach is and does. So, leaving aside childhood ambition, my reasons for diving into the world of coaching are a mix of pragmatism, aptitude, and fascination; not so much in coaching, but in people. 

I’ll return to this train of thought momentarily, but first the reason for this blog post. As a complete novice in the field of coaching, I am aware that I am about to embark upon a substantial educational voyage which will take many hours, months and indeed years. As part of my learner journey I have already begun writing down my thoughts, not only to consolidate my learning but to begin for myself something of a glossary of the key concepts and techniques. And what better way to hammer my stake of commitment into the ground than to make those writings a public blog series! I invite you then to join me in real time on my journey from complete novice, to professional coach. 

So why coaching, and why now? First, the pragmatics. I have been working as a content creator behind the scenes at iManage Performance for around 6 years now. Through sheer proximity to the material, I have developed over these years a clear understanding of the tenants of great training. And although they are different in many ways, coaching and training overlap in several areas. Thus, I am not stumbling in the dark entirely, for me there is somewhat of a grounding. 

To continue with pragmatism; money! It would be silly to ignore the financial motivation that exists for me. Good coaches make good money, and with the industry connections that iManage affords me, it feels a pretty sure thing that if I can develop the skills the money will follow. Although it feels a little strange, I think it’s okay to admit that you want to make money. In fact I think it responsible for someone with a young family in an expensive part of the UK to want to provide to a certain standard. Money can be a strong motivator, and a healthy one as long as it is not the only motivator! 

That brings me on to aptitude. Here is a self portrait sketch for you: I would describe myself has a bit of a sceptic; very rarely do accept something I am told without some level of interrogation or investigation. I don’t like rules; if I am to do something, or not to do something, then I want to know why. I do not enjoy small talk; I am impatient with surface level exchanges, and would prefer to go deep or not talk at all! I am curious; when something interests me I tend to get slightly obsessed. I enjoy studying the subtext and the meta-narrative. I think these traits provide me the potential to become a very good coach, a coach who can navigate the tangled roots of specific scenarios while maintaining a clear view of the jungle canopy from above. A coach who can identify and address the root cause rather than patching up the symptoms. A coach who can harvest crucial information and guide conversations with insightful questions… that’s the goal anyway! I’m starting as a complete beginner, but I think I have an aptitude that will stand me in good stead as I move forward.

And lastly, fascination. What people do and why they do it is an endless source of fascination for me. Sometimes it’s because I am inspired by peoples choices and actions, other times it’s because I am bemused by seemingly irrational and unhelpful thought processes and behaviours. Either way I am interested in why people do the things they do, and I am often compelled to ask questions in order to understand! The idea that people can be coached towards higher levels of performance by having their methods and presuppositions challenged by and objective viewer  is exciting, and i’d like to be able to do that! Having a positive impact on somebodies life seems like a very worthwhile pursuit to me. 

And so it begins, my journey from novice to pro coach in real time. I will endeavour to keep the blog posts regular, marking my progress, thoughts and feelings along the way. I hope you’ll stick around for the ride! 

Why compassion must be our guide as we return to work

It’s almost unbelievable to think that we have now reached a year since the first national lockdown. Not because it’s gone so quickly, but because it hasn’t! We are now a year into this rather extreme social experiment; what happens when you remove all “unnecessary” social contact, almost all leisure sport and exercise, all avoidable travel, and dictate that people must live and work in their homes indefinitely amidst a constant and grinding narrative of danger and judgement. 

Tentatively, we are crawling towards a return to our previous way of life. Many people are now spending at least some time back in the office whether through hybrid working or going back full time. And although on the one hand we welcome the return to normality, in the other hand many people will deal with post lockdown trauma. 

What is this lockdown trauma? I think its the trauma of being starved and then force fed! Starved of all social contact and then force fed the social complexity of an office environment. Starved of all travel and then force fed the crowded commute. Starved of all extra curricular activities and then force fed the expectations of busy days and evenings out. Yes, we do want it all back, but for many many people this transition is going to be a little bumpy, and for others it may cause severe anxiety. 

This is why as we begin hybrid working or go back to the office full time, compassion must be our guide as we return to work. We need to have compassion on team members who are struggling to match the pace, who need a little more time and space than usual. Not everyone will need it, but keep your eye out for that person who seems to be struggling with the culture shock of expectations in the work environment. As Dr Dan Sherwood, a consultant psychiatrist at the Defence Rehabilitation Centre in Loughborough has said, “I think it is plausible that there will be a higher preponderance of workplace absences as lockdown lifts, and certainly in the early stages. And, if so, I think that that will have an impact potentially on the morale and psychological wellbeing of the reduced workforce, and increasing the likelihood of occupational burnout”. 

No doubt this transition back to office working will be a tricky one. We must be ready to respond with compassion , not judgement, when our team members and colleagues need support. 

What does it mean to be resilient?

Psychologists define resilience as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress. In a recent episode of our podcast, Squeeze, we focused on Lucy Hone; an expert in resilience. Her Ted Talk on this topic is well worth a watch. Speaking from tragic personal experience and academic expertise, Lucy lays out three keys to being a resilient person.

Resilient people understand that bad things happen

Understanding this simple idea is critical in removing from ones self the sense of victimhood. Reframing the question, ‘why me?’ to ‘why not me?’ leads to a rapid perspective shift. We live in an age where we think that we are entitled to a perfect, picturesque, instagram lifestyle. But the objective truth is different. We are not entitled to any of these things, there are no guarantees, bad things do happen to good people.

Resilient people are really good at choosing where they apply their attention

This means realistically appraising situations, and focusing on the things that they can change, and accepting the things that they can’t. This, says Lucy, is a vital and learnable skill. The idea rolls off the tongue with ease, but the biological reality that human beings are hard wired to be highly receptive to negative emotions (threats and dangers) makes it very difficult. Studies have shown how our biological hardware is lagging behind cultural and societal development. What we are left with is an over active stress response which, rather than helping us run away from a tiger, leaves us emotionally drained after seeing something triggering on twitter.

Resilient people do not diminish the negative, but they have worked out a way of tuning into the good

In psychology, this is called benefit finding. One study asked participants to think of three good things that had happened to them each day. 6 months into the study, the group were showing higher levels of gratitude, happiness and less depression than the control group. Making a deliberate effort to tune into what is good in your world is demonstrably powerful.

Lastly, resilient people ask themselves, ‘is what i’m doing helping or harming me?’. The answer in any given scenario will probably be blindingly obvious, you only need the courage to ask the question. And when you ask the question, you are putting yourself back in the drivers seat and regaining some control over your circumstances.

Three simple, readily available strategies to help build resilience, if only we are willing to give them a try.

Get the most out of your Webcam

Whether you love it or hate it, video conferencing is the new normal, and it’s here to stay. For team meetings and catchups we can be content to use our in built webcams, but what about important presentations, sales meetings, or coaching sessions? There are times when we want to make a little more of an impression, and in this blog I will outline a few simple techniques and principals to help you add a touch of class to your zoom-pearance… (that’s zoom and appearance stapled together!), and get the most out of your webcam.

Webcams

Most laptops have a webcam of sufficient quality these days, but the real issue with webcams is the framing. We end up with a close up shot at an upward angle towards the face because of the tilt we want to have on our laptop screens. It’s okay, it’s not great.

The simple solution is to get hold of an external HD webcam. Mount the webcam a good few feet behind and above your laptop. This will achieve a much more professional ‘news reporter’ style shot, which includes your desk and your laptop in the frame.

Lighting

We want to avoid the extremes. Poor lighting delivers a dark and often fuzzy picture as software tries to digitally lighten the image. Too much light and the image will be blown out. If we’re going for a super professional look, then we want to aim for three sources of light; a key light, a fill light, and a back light.

The key light is the main source of light in the video, and for our purposes is best placed at a 45degree angle from the subject, at a downward angle replicating sunlight. Light sources that are at an upward angle produce the unsettling horror movie look, and we certainly aren’t aiming for that! The fill light should be less bright than the key light, and fills in some of the shadows that are caused by the key light. And lastly, the back light creates separation between the subject and the background, creating a stronger silhouette. These light sources could be artificial, studio lights or even lamps, or you can just as effectively utilise natural light through windows, by placing yourself at the right angle from the window. In most scenarios, a combination of natural light and a lamp in the background will be perfect. What we are aiming for is a well lit subject, with some subtle shadows on one side of the face, separated from the background.

Background

You might think the plainer the background the better, and in some context you would be right. However, sitting up against a blank wall is not actually the most aesthetically pleasing choice. Don’t be afraid to have a dynamic and colourful background with books, shelves, lamps, or artwork in view. Just be sure there is nothing inappropriate or compromising in the frame! For a really professional look, get as much space between yourself and the background as you can in the room. This gives a sense of 3D depth to the frame, in comparison to sitting close to a wall which can feel claustrophobic and one dimensional.

So there you have it, three simple ideas that you could implement to take your zoom game to the next level.

We're Trusted By

I'm Bob Bannister, owner, and trainer at iManage Performance, the specialists in training for remote workers and managers with over 20 years of experience in this sector.

As the UK has rapidly shifted towards working from home, this challenges the norms in which we work and manage We can help to fast track your remote management or team skills. Speak to us about our training options today.

call today +44 (0)1444 474247

email bob.bannister@imanageperformance.com