Coaching us into the Year of the Sheep

February 23rd 2015

Popping into our nursery in Soho which neighbours Chinatown I couldn’t help but notice the preparations to welcome the Chinese Year of the Sheep.

Since my eldest son went to live in China three years ago, I have taken a deeper interest in all things Chinese and so I checked out the predictions.

According to some of the sources the Sheep represents nurturing and creativity and this year comes with the recommendation to avoid  being overly assertive and relying on brute force but instead one must think things through before doing anything. We must look to being solution focused and build common sense into strategy;  I hope some politicians might listen to the sheep, shred their manifestos and think again.

The Year of the Sheep made me reflect on a coaching workshop I attended last week. Santander in partnership with Cause 4 brought together 20 business women who have agreed to mentor 20 other business women in a programme known as Breakthrough. The workshop was a refresher to coaching and also a place where we met and got to know each other.  There was much laughter from the group as we all admitted to not always acting in either a coaching or a mentoring way but drove the business forward using brute force.  (Not quite the spirit of the Year of the Sheep)

As a model coaching has many merits.  There are many models and theories of coaching and mentoring and at LEYF we have developed a model of coaching throughout the organisation as it helps develop reflective practitioners with the emotional intelligence that allows people to become better leaders. We have had some interesting sessions, learning to manage the amygdala hijack.

I have met a number of interesting coaches including Athina Kafetsiou who says that ‘life begins at the end of your comfort zone and coaching helps you make those personal changes and attitude shifts that allow you to get there.’

I have spent time with Stephen Gribben who taught me that it was all in the questions. Coaching is about asking the right questions to help people gain deeper understanding of themselves. It’s being able to create a mirror that helps people reflect in a way that encourages self-reflection and allows people to take the responsibility for thinking through the issues in order to arrive at a personal solution.

We all struggled with how we should learn to be quiet and listen empathetically and not to jump in and finish sentences or fill silences.

This does not come without risks and we were soon troubled by how we could build trust, avoid creating a dependency in the relationship, stop ourselves from dispensing advice, or sympathising (‘oh yes this happened to me too and I had to leave the country, it was terrible etc...!’)  and to not provide options and solutions which we all agreed was our natural instinct. We had images of  the knight riding to the rescue like Ned Stark in Game of Thrones or sitting in the psychiatrist chair; clearly none of these were designed to help the person achieve self–efficacy!

So back to China, the Chinese symbol for listening is You, Ears, Eyes, Undivided attention heart. This seems the best way of describing how we can all use a coaching style to create the reflective thinkers and emotionally connected staff who are more likely to improve the experience for children and other staff and become more resilient and confident as a result.  Let’s make this the message for the Year of the Sheep – perhaps we will find them in our fortune cookies.