Before you can change or improve anything you must increase your awareness of how it is now

Written by Matt Somers on . Posted in Coaching principles

Coaching Skills Series

This is one of many articles I intend to post this year considering the range of principles, skills and experiences you’ll need to be an effective coaching manager for the people in your team.

Here we consider the key coaching principle of awareness. Next time we’ll look at the thorny old subject of motivation.


  • How comfortable would you like to feel as you sit reading this post?
  • How comfortable are you feeling right now?
  • How much difference is there between the two?
  • What could you change to get more comfortable?
  • What are you going to do?

A quick coaching session using the ARROW sequence (did you spot it?) on increasing comfort. All founded on making you more aware of the state of comfort. Aware of the state of comfort that you have, aware of the state of comfort that you want and aware of what you can alter to get more comfortable. Coaching is all about change and improvement, but before we can change or improve anything we must increase our awareness of how it is now.

Try this. Think of an item you know well but that you can’t actually see. For example, if you’re sitting reading this in your living room, think about say, your alarm clock in the bedroom. If you’re reading this on the train on your way to work, think of say the contents of the top drawer in your desk. Grab a paper and pen and draw whatever item you’re thinking of in as much detail as you can. Think of every feature. Think of the colour, the shape, the texture and size and try to capture these things as accurately as you can. Now go and find the item in question and compare it with your drawing. You’ve probably missed some important details or got some features wrong. You may even have included some aspects that aren’t actually there at all. At a seminar I ran recently, I asked all the attendees to give me their watch at the start. Twenty minutes into the talk, I asked them to draw their watches in a similar way to I’ve asked you here. One guy was stunned. He’d carefully shown beautiful Roman numerals on his drawing only to discover there were none on his watch when I returned it. “I can’t believe I did that” he mumbled for the rest of the talk.

What this shows is how little use we make of our awareness in everyday working life. We move through the working day in a sort of daydream; we think we’re aware of what’s happening but in truth we are not. Think what might happen with our awareness increased. The things we’d see, the details we’d notice. We’d read other people’s reactions better and become much more sensitive as a result. We’d understand our own feelings better, be less susceptible to them and more able to take control. We’d notice the subtle differences in the tone of voice of our customers and colleagues as they respond to the content and style of our own communication. Things would improve just by a process of taking better notice; that’s all we’d have to do; it would be that easy.

Coaching brings about this state of increased awareness.



Can you harness the magic of Responsibility?

Written by Matt Somers on . Posted in Coaching principles

Coaching Skills Series

This is one of many articles I intend to post this year considering the range of principles, skills and experiences you’ll need to be an effective coaching manager for the people in your team.

Here we consider a key coaching principle of responsibility. The principle of awareness will be considered in the next posting in the series in about a fortnight’s time.

responsibilityI once worked in an office where I sat near to the senior manager’s secretary/PA. This awful woman fulfilled every negative stereotype associated with such a role, was difficult and truculent and made most people’s lives a misery. On top of this she could be aptly described as work shy and idle…

except for two weeks in every year.

These were the two weeks when her boss, the senior manager was on holiday. During this period she would be responsible for managing his diary commitments, handling requests from other senior members of staff, signing purchase orders and a host of other tasks that were very, very different from her normal job. At these times she was a pleasure to work alongside and got through a staggering amount of work.

What could explain the difference? It wasn’t just relief that her boss was away, because he was a genuinely nice and capable person for whom we all enjoyed working. It wasn’t because the tasks she now undertook were glamorous and fulfilling because they weren’t. It was because she was responsible and knew it. If a conflicting diary appointment occurred when the boss was there, she made him aware of it and he decided what to do. If someone wanted to raise a purchase order when he was in he decided if the money could be paid away. In his absence, she made these decisions; she was responsible she had choice. There was a chance she could have made mistakes but I cannot recall a time when she did.

This is the magic of responsibility. How many times have you seen the wayward sports team member be transformed by being given the captaincy? The sports manager understands the power of responsibility and giving people choice in order to make them feel empowered. It can turn the poacher into the gamekeeper overnight. The next time you’re thinking about how cynical old Brian from accounts may react to the latest changes to the office procedures, think about what might change if Brian were to be invited to take responsibility for changing the office procedures. Notice I say invited because responsibility must be taken up; it must be accepted; it cannot be imposed.

Coaching is about getting the best ‘out’ of people, which implies that it’s there to begin with, but people will only choose to give of their very best they’ feel capable of doing so, when they’re rewarded for doing so and when they’re willing to try. You can use coaching to make sure these three elements are in place or to uncover any blockages.

The coaching questions in the ARROW model are designed to generate responsibility, e.g. ‘What are YOU going to do?’, ‘When are YOU going to do it? etc. It’s ok for you to put people on the spot a little bit with these sorts of questions, and we need to if we really want to improve performance at work. While we continue to do things for people that they can (and sometimes need) to do for themselves we actually have not helped at all.


Trust: The most vital ingredient in coaching

Written by Matt Somers on . Posted in Coaching principles

Coaching Skills Series

This is one of many articles I intend to post this year considering the range of principles, skills and experiences you’ll need to be an effective coaching manager for the people in your team.

This post is all about trust. The next one will look at encouraging coachees to welcome self-responsibility.

trustI believe that increasing and improving levels of trust in organizations would make a massive difference. The absence of trust leads to a host of unnecessary, time consuming, and bureaucratic processes that few people would miss if they disappeared. If we can’t trust people not to fiddle their expenses, do we really want them let loose on our customers and suppliers where they could do far more damage? Rather than tying managers up in ‘back to work’ interviews would it not be better to have them examine a culture so deficient that people would rather lie about their health than come in to work? Call me naive but I believe that there is a better way and that a coaching approach facilitates it. Let’s first examine the components of trust in a coaching relationship.

Dear Manager

I need to trust you, my coaching manager. This requires you to be a trustworthy person doing trustworthy things. I need to know that anything I might reveal in a coaching session will be treated in confidence unless I am up to something illegal, unethical or harmful. I need to know that discussing areas of my work which I find challenging will not automatically disbar me from applying for a promotion or some other advancement. I want to be able to turn to you for coaching help whether to solve a problem or make progress on an already strong area. I want you to make time for me and our coaching conversations, to be taken seriously and for you to accept I have a point of view, even if it differs from your own.

I need to trust the coaching process. I don’t want to be coached if I neither need it nor have requested it. I don’t want to be coached just because it’s my turn or because you’ve got a schedule to stick to. Do it this way if you want (and far too many do) but don’t be surprised if I don’t seem fully engaged. Don’t be surprised if I offer only superficial answers to your coaching questions and seem mistrustful of the whole thing. It’ll be because I sense it is all about you and not me.

Help me to trust myself. To become the best I can be and achieve my potential at work I need someone who believes in me, even when I’ve lost faith in myself. You’re my manager; I respect your position and what you’ve achieved and your backing and support means a lot. With it I can achieve great things which creates a ‘win’ for you, me and our organization alike. Without it we all lose in the end.

Thank you

To be a manager who coaches thus requires a high level of integrity and trustworthiness and quite right too. Managers who coach in a climate of trust find they have advantages when things go wrong and/or pressure builds because their people are more willing to ‘go into bat’ for them when needs be. People who work for managers they cannot trust or who don’t believe they are trusted themselves tend not to do this and in extreme cases will look to sabotage the manager’s efforts