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Plain sailing? Navigating the Seven Cs of Coaching

‘In Greek literature (which is where the phrase entered Western literature), the Seven Seas were the Aegean, Adriatic, Mediterranean, Black, Red, and Caspian seas, with the Persian Gulf thrown in as a “sea.”

                                                                                            National Ocean Service

 In the beginning, the Seven Seas referred to bodies of water along trade routes, regional bodies of water, or exotic and far-away bodies of water. They were the means of commercial and social connection; without specific knowledge of them or a means of access to them, a trader or a nation might not thrive. You see where I’m going with this, right?

Effective coaching offers the opportunity to build better levels of self-awareness which in turn support the development of the kind of professional (and personal) relationships which enable the individual (in the analogy, a regional body of water) or the organisation (the exotic body of water) to thrive. What follows then is a map which I hope will enable a willing coach to plot a course to support the development of their colleagues.

This piece assumes some working knowledge of the principles and purpose of coaching. For a primer, you might look at this definition of coaching from the Australian based Growth Coaching International (GCI). I had the privilege of being trained by John Campbell, Founding Director of GCI and my work as a coach has developed out of the GROWTH model espoused by GCI (itself a development of Whitmore’s GROW model). I have also benefited from working with Richard Lockyear, CEO of OLEVI, whose approach to coaching mirrors that of GROW and from whom I’ve learned a great deal. Similarly, Andy Buck’s BASIC model of coaching offers further insight by bringing together the best elements from a range of sources and synthesising them into a new and coherent whole.

I believe that coaching is ultimately about supporting personal empowerment which in turn leads to professional growth. At its best, it creates the conditions for autonomous decision making and, therefore, helps resolve the problems that may have led to seeking a coach in the first place. A variation on Simon Sinek’s ‘golden circle’(but no ‘start with why’ here, see Challenge section for detail): What’s the issue to overcome or what’s the goal to be achieved? How might this best be achieved? What action will need to be taken to make this happen? The models for coaching are, on the whole, a sophistication of this basic premise. The GROW model fashions this as Goal (what?), Reality (the problems), Options (how?), Will – as in what will you do – (action). In my 7Cs model these appear as: context/clarify (what?), consider/challenge (how?), commit/champion (action?). I’ve found that by exploring the connections between different models of coaching, I understand more about its core purpose and synthesise those elements within my own practice. The 7Cs are offered in the spirit of exploring those connections rather than as a ‘new’ approach in itself (also 7 of anything is more tricky to remember). The elements will overlap and intersect at times; not every element will need to feature in every coaching session.

The 7Cs (and 3Ps)

  • Contract (and 3 Ps – prepared, present, positive)
  • Context
  • Clarify
  • Consider
  • Challenge
  • Commit
  • Champion

Contract (including the 3 Ps)

This is a key part of the coaching process. In effect, it’s the ground rules for how the sessions will work. What does the coachee hope to achieve? What do we need to avoid? What the process is/isn’t for, can/can’t do. How the sessions will work (place, time, length). And the usual reassurance about confidentiality and coaching as a ‘safe space’.

It’s important to establish that both coach and coachee are signed up to the 3Ps as well. Prepared – coachee wants to and is ready to engage; coach has done her/his homework and has a framework for the session ahead. Present – both are ‘in the moment’, phones switched off, somewhere quiet and private. Positive – both see the potential in the process and are optimistic that a difference can be made.

Context

This is the start of the process. Not just ‘what’s the issue?’ but what are the circumstances surrounding the issue too. The context enables the coach to have a broader picture but also encourages the coachee to think around the problem which in turn supports possible solutions.

Sometimes there are emotions that need to be dealt with in order to really address the central matter. For example, the coachee may be feeling angry or hurt. Sometimes the issue may be that the coachee is dealing with a person who is in an emotional state. In such cases, using the WRASH model may be helpful? This is a variation on the concept articulated by Robert Dilts: Withdrawn, Reactive, unable to Act, Separated, Hurt/Hating? The states related to such anxiety can be caused by people or context.

The diagram suggests possible causes of feeling WRASH and therefore offers a model of how these might be addressed.

Is there a lack of clarity about their role or situation? A focus on clarifying may help resolve the issue. Is there a lack of trust preventing progress? This can be addressed in a number of ways (this piece – ahem – may help in terms of approaches to building trust). Trust requires authenticity, empathy, positivity and clarity. If any of these elements are absent, trust cannot grow. Is the issue around leadership? Too directive or too manipulative? Again, there is plenty of work on approaches to managing these issues

Coaching reminds us that we can only change ourselves, we are only in control of our emotional responses. Therefore, when reflecting on a tricky personnel issue, it’s not ‘they make me feel …’ but rather ‘I respond in this way because…’ In moving to an understanding of what it is that makes the coachee respond unhelpfully, we are one step closer to exploring useful ways of ensuring that this can be resolved for the future. If the coachee is dealing with an issue with a ‘predominant state’, what reinforces that state? And what has worked previously for the coachee in avoiding similar situations?

Clarify

A great coach listens attentively in order to be able to ask the questions that matter. Having understood the context surrounding the issue or the goal to be attained, it is important to be clear about what the goal really is and why it matters. A great coach listens for what’s meant rather than just what’s said. Listening supports the process of ‘playback’ (‘what I’ve heard you say is …. Is that right?’) and reframing (‘so, to sum up you’re suggesting that ….’) helps ensure that you’re both understanding the same thing in the same way; it also serves to build rapport and trust as the coachee can see that you’ve engaged with what they’ve been saying. This element both clarifies understanding and prompts new thinking as described by Liz Hall in her readable ‘Coach Your Team’.

Consider

Next, the process explores the possibilities for moving things forward. What might be done? If the issue is one of personnel, what’s the other person feeling? Part of the consideration might be to imagine the other person’s response to the circumstances and approach of the coachee. There’s always a different way – as Korzybski clarified ‘the map is not the territory’ – and the role of the coach is to explore as much of the territory as is useful.

This phase can use some of the questions asked of themselves by successful teams as outlined in Patrick Lencioni’s ‘The Advantage’. Clarifying what’s specifically required to be successful in resolving the issue, what’s necessary to do first and who else needs to contribute to complete the action?

Challenge

In the spirit of the NLP belief that there’s ‘no failure, only feedback’, some supportive ‘push back’ may be helpful. Is the coachee’s emerging approach the best one? Some useful questions include: what’s the real challenge here? What else could you do? Tell me what made you think this one will make the difference? Asking what rather than why puts the focus on the action rather than the decision-maker and avoids ‘personalising’ the thought process. Liz Hall reminds us that ‘‘coaching can reduce fear and make you more open to change’ which is what challenge in the best sense should do. There will be an element of power and powerlessness in the coaching model, particularly at the beginning of the process. Therefore the challenge element must be balanced by the champion one in order to help a sense of self-worth thrive.

Commit

Once a clear course of action emerges, it is important to confirm particular actions and timescales. The coachee should then ‘commit’ to these, ready to review at the next coaching session. John Campbell suggests ending the session by asking the coachee to complete this template: by ….(date) I will (action) so that (reinforce the goal). Why might this help? In terms of commitment, research suggests that you are much more likely to complete an action if you have committed to someone in writing what you’ll do and by when than if you just tell yourself you’ll do it (à la New Year’s resolutions …..).

Champion

It’s important to balance any ‘push back’, however supportive, with positive affirmation. The OLEVI approach reminds us that part of the coach’s role is to be a ‘cheerleader’ for the coachee where strengths, positive qualities and progress are noted and celebrated. This is also part of the trust building process which is critical to the chance of success of the coaching relationship. The start of a subsequent session might begin with ‘what have you been most proud of since we last spoke?’ or ‘how did it feel when you were able to get what you’d planned to do done?’

Ultimately, if it’s working well, the coaching process stimulates personal growth for both coachee and coach. For the coach, the spirit of by giving of myself, I make myself stronger definitely applies. Negotiating the 7Cs successfully, I’d suggest, leads to significant professional satisfaction. And I didn’t mention Echo and the Bunnnymen once. Though the drive to use coaching often emerges from a desire for a new direction or …..

‘A longing for

Some fresher feeling…’

                                                                        Seven Seas – Echo & the Bunnymen

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