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So much to gain from
your "bubble of safe space"

This page follows on from the previous one on Agreeing Pairs.  If you haven't had a chance to scan it please do so first, because it sets the scene for the ideas below.

Updated at May 10, 2024

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Coaching Pairs and the power of self-challenge

Agreeing that what you both say will go no further

 

At your first meeting as a pair, it is important to agree that you will both respect the confidentiality of your discussions together.

It is fundamental to the success of Coaching Pairs that what you say to each other in this time together goes no further, unless it’s with the express agreement of your coaching partner.

 

Two equal slots

 

We suggest that you book out one hour together, with flexibility to run over by a few minutes if need be.  Then split your time into two equal slots.

 

Starting with a positive experience

Whichever one of you starts, it is good to begin by sharing an experience from the past few weeks that you especially appreciated, as a leader.  You try to capture what it was about this that made you feel so positive.

 

Your coaching partner then has an opportunity to draw you out some more on what this tells you about yourself as a leader.

 

This is where the different dimensions to Coaching Pairs come into play, as your partner champions what you have already achieved as a leader and encourages you to feel more empowered as you think through how best to build on this positive experience.

 

Once you have drawn out some sort of insight for yourself as a leader, it is time to change tack and share another story about something that frustrated you because you didn't achieve what you wanted.

 

Freeing ourselves from defensive positions

 

This process is designed to help us free ourselves from defensive positions that can so easily hold us back in our development as leaders.

 

This is why we each need to be able to share our story with someone we trust, to help us focus on what we can do to move forward with a stronger sense of purpose.

It is also why the principle of self-challenge is the centrepiece of our approach towards Coaching Pairs.

Asking ourselves what lessons we need to learn

Many of us are not used to challenging ourselves.  So we need to be encouraged to ask ourselves the sorts of questions that could easily trigger a defensive response if they came from anyone else!
 

If you sense that your coaching partner is reluctant to challenge themselves, it can help a lot if you offer up an example of a difficult situation you've been in recently that has led to you challenging yourself about how you handled it.

This principle of self-challenge has immense power within Coaching Pairs precisely because the role of our partner is to encourage us to ask ourselves what lessons we need to learn from a recent experience when we either excelled as a leader, or fell short.

 

We use the safe space of our Coaching Pair to ask ourselves a tough question, trusting in our ability to come up with the right answer.

 

We know that the answer won't always be immediately apparent.  This is why it's so important that we view this process of self-challenge as ongoing.

 

The more we feel ourselves learning and developing as a leader, the more addictive this process of self-challenge will become!

 

Please make sure you watch the clock

We can all so appreciate the time a trusted colleague is investing in us that we let the clock go past the half-way mark without saying our time is up!

 

If you are the one who volunteers to go first, please make a point of not doing this.

 

You need to be ready to call time on your part of the session, so that your partner can benefit from the sort of encouragement and support they have just been offering you. 

Helping each other
increase our impact as leaders

Coaching Pairs are all about leaders supporting each other in developing as members of the wider leadership team. 
 

To achieve as much as we can through this time, we each need to use this safe space to talk freely about how our behaviours impact on other members of the team.

 

So often we never discuss this with colleagues at work.  Now that we are able to do so, this should help a lot with:
 

  • EMPOWERING OURSELVES to deal with something that is getting in the way of how we engage with others

 

  • ENCOURAGING OUR PARTNER as they go through a similar process themselves, and experience the relief of knowing they are no longer doing so alone.

Not becoming "rescuers"

From our first discussion with our coaching partner, we each need to remind ourselves that we are sharing this time together as leaders.
 

Some of us can have a tendency to become “rescuers”.  


So when they share a difficult story with us, we need to be careful not to treat them as a victim.  

 

Some of us can also act as if our role is to make everything right for everyone else.  This is something else that we need to avoid, so we don't come across as a "Fixit"!

We're not rescuers, therapists or Fixits!  We're co-leaders, supporting each other in our efforts to become better leaders and more effective team players.

Identifying those behaviours we need to LEAVE BEHIND

 

One of the great benefits of Coaching Pairs is that someone we trust is in a position to ask us a question that enables us to talk about something in our past that could well have been holding us back for years. 

 

So often we find that these moments of revelation are not nearly as shocking as we might expect them to be!

 

We illustrate this through the three following examples of behaviours that hold back so many leaders.  

 

Just acknowledging the circumstances that gave rise to them, and seeing them for what they are, can be truly life-changing.

 

 It also becomes much easier to let them go!

 

No longer sabotaging ourselves as leaders

Challenge 1: To stop backtracking under pressure

How we sabotage ourselves: In a team discussion, we always appear to backtrack from any position that seems to encounter strong opposition from another member of the team.

This sort of risk-averse behaviour is often triggered by a fear of rejection.

 

It might be because we remember being punished as a child for appearing to disagree with our parents. Or we might have experienced bullying by an elder sibling, or our Manager in a previous job.

Whatever the trauma might have been, our desire to shield ourselves from the memory might well mean we have little awareness of this behaviour today.
 

If our coaching partner just asks whether we’re AWARE that we appear not to stand our ground the moment a discussion becomes a little heated, this might help us to acknowledge a link with something specific in our past. 
 

Hearing this question come from a trusted colleague makes it easier to resolve to handle ourselves differently in this sort of situation in future.

Challenge 2: To engage with the importance of praising others!

Our self-sabotage: We never seem to offer any praise to members of our team, however well they behave. When others praise US, we say nothing.

From experience with a wide range of leadership teams, we can say that this behaviour is surprisingly common. 
 

A key reason for this is that many people in leadership positions have no recollection of being praised at school or at home, however well they performed or behaved. 
 

People who are denied praise as a child often learn to be distrustful of those who offer it, if only as a way of managing their memory of a childhood marked by so little recognition.

They come to regard praise for others as something that is insincere and OTT.   So they tend not to offer it, with all of the consequences this can bring for team members who come to feel that their personal contribution to the team just isn't being "seen".
 

The simple fact of opening up a conversation about praising others, in the safe space of a Coaching Pair, can make it possible for us to recognise that an emotional blockage from earlier years is getting in our way as a leader. 
 

The right nudge from a trusted colleague can help us acknowledge how much praise would have meant to us in our earlier years - and how it can set others back if we now repeat this behaviour all these years later!
 

Imagine hearing the words “I don’t think I’ve ever heard you praise anyone … might there be something here that’s getting in the way?”

 

 This can be enough to help us realise that we’re hanging on to old “stuff” that is getting in the way a lot more than we appreciated.

Challenge 3: To experience the power of curiosity!

A common self-sabotaging behaviour: We hardly ever ask any questions of others. When we do offer a view, we always seem to be definite in what we think.  We never use a phrase such as “I’m not sure!” or “I don’t know!”

There are a lot of people in this category, aren’t there. There could be multiple reasons, some of which might be to do with the culture of our organisation. 
 

Alternatively, the reason might be more personal. We might, say, have bombed badly at an important exam earlier in life and been on the receiving end of unkind teasing as a result.
 

This sort of memory can easily mean that we regard any sort of vulnerability as an invitation to others to point the finger at us for not being sufficiently intelligent to do our job properly!
 

This helps explain why some people will go to great lengths to avoid asking any questions of others.  They fear that by asking a question they could be seen as ignorant, and perhaps some sort of "imposter".
 

So they limit themselves to expressing views on subjects where they can say they KNOW they are right.
 

This is where a gentle question on our part can create the space for our coaching partner to share their story.
 

So long as our tone is relaxed and warm, we should be able to ask a question that enables them to challenge themselves about WHY they behave as they do.

 

This is only possible because of the two-way trust underpinning the work of every Coaching Pair.

Owning our “stuff”!

Everyone involved in Coaching Pairs is part of the same leadership team, with the same shared aims and objectives.

 

 This should make it easier for all of us to let go of habits that get in our way as leaders.

So long as we are each prepared to show a little patience, we should be able to look on the time we spend in our Coaching Pair as incredibly well spent.
 

It is important to stress the word patience, because there are two key principles that need to apply for leaders to be able to let go of unhelpful “stuff”:

  1. We own our stuff.  The more we feel we can own our stuff with our coaching partner, the easier it is for them to do the same with us.
     

  2. We accept that changing some of our behaviours is bound to take time.  Whenever we slip back into old habits, we need someone we're close to who's willing to say that after taking two steps forward we've just taken one step back - and this is inevitable.  We're still moving forward!
     

Assuming the best

The time that we spend with our coaching partner is all about the two of us working together as part of one unified leadership team in which we all support each other in developing as leaders.
 

We assume the best in whatever we say, combining a strong sense of connection with high levels of trust and genuine generosity of spirit.

 

This means that even when the words don't come out quite right it really doesn't matter, because our partner knows that we're coming from a good place.

 

We have their best interests at heart, just as they have our best interests at heart too!

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