At the heart of coaching is the movement from a current place to a different, preferred future. Coaches help their coaching partners identify and clarify that preferred future. They provoke awareness of strategies and pathways towards that future and grow motivation and commitment, enabling sustained progress towards achieving that future state.
It could be argued that along with helping the coachee develop a clear, richly detailed goal, growing motivation to commit time and energy to sustaining progress towards that goal is the next most helpful thing a coach can do for and with those they coach.
Indeed, it could be argued that the ability to sustain progress towards goal attainment is one of the key differentiators of coaching as a growth and learning methodology.
Many different forms of learning can help people get started – workshops, books, webinars, lectures but the extended continuity and accountability offered by a series of coaching sessions helps to address the challenges of maintaining commitment towards identified goals.
Quite a lot has been written about human motivation over the years but more recently Self Determination Theory has emerged as one of the more compelling, widely researched theories of human motivation.
Self-determination theory (SDT), developed by psychologists Ed Deci and Richard Ryan (Ryan & Deci,2000) at the University of Rochester over the past 30 years, is now the most respected theory of human motivation. Many leading coaches consider SDT to be the most important scientific theory relevant to the work that coaches do (Oades & Spence, 2011).
In essence, SDT argues that all human beings possess positive tendencies towards growth and development that are enhanced by an environment that supports three innate and universal psychological needs:
Autonomy – having a sense of choice and volition
Competence - growing capabilities to develop mastery that makes an impact
Relatedness – being in meaningful relationships and community
When these basic needs are met, people operate in an environment that nourishes human thriving.
In one sense, the recent growing interest in coaching can be explained by the way that the broad process of coaching is set up to support these needs: the one to one relationship forms a micro-community and supports the Relatedness need; building competence and mastery is often central to why coach and coachee come together and supports the Competence drive; and the coachee-chosen focus areas and goal development supports the Autonomy need.
What then are some additional approaches and techniques that we might build into our coaching work that further supports these important motivational drivers?
Consider these suggestions…
Reminding yourself that the invitation for the coachee to focus on self-chosen areas and self-chosen options and actions supports the need for autonomy.
Clearly demonstrating coaching skills of active listening and asking open questions.
Asking permission when it comes to 'sharing know-how'. Indeed, Tony Stolfzfus, in support of this principle, argues that, “... a less optimal solution the coachee develops often produces better results than the ‘right answer’ coming from the coach.”
Regularly inviting your coaching partner to choose - among emerging options, as to how the coaching process itself might progress, including when and how to meet.
Minimising the use of controlling language – 'should', 'ought', 'must'.
Providing clear rationale for any requests you might make of the coachee.
All of these approaches help to grow the sense of autonomy and when choice is offered and autonomy is nourished commitment and ownership grow too.
Drawing attention to any signs of progress towards goals. 'Scaling' can be really helpful here. It can be especially insightful to use a scale of 1-10 to invite an assessment of current progress towards the identified goals right at the commencement of the coaching process. This scale can be revisited in subsequent sessions as a visible reinforcer and reminder of progress and increasing mastery.
Asking, 'What's better since last time?' The assumption behind the question is that something is better and it directs coachees to notice even small movement towards greater competency.
Helping to set optimal stretch ISMART goals (Inspiring, Specific, Measurable, Relevant, Time-bound). Optimal goals have an element of stretch and challenge but are not so great that mastery is possible and not out of reach.
Directing attention to and engaging the coachee's strengths.
Setting small, even tiny, next step actions so that progress is almost guaranteed.
Giving positive feedback on any noticeable progress.
Emphasising the 'partnership' nature of the coaching relationship.
Giving intentional focus to building trust.
Creating an environment of safety that leads to curiosity, openness and the willingness to be challenged.
Encouraging coachees to identify social support from colleagues and friends to help them progress towards goals.
While some of these tips might be well integrated into your coaching approach – it helps to be reminded of why they are important and why they work, so that you can maintain a commitment to doing these things well.
Others will be worth building into the way you coach, as the evidence base is extensive –autonomy, competence and relatedness are essential nutrients to thriving.
Helping the people with whom we work move towards flourishing, in whatever context they find themselves, is at the heart of the coaching process.
John Campbell is Executive Director of Growth Coaching International Pty Ltd (GCI), an organisation providing coaching and coaching services to school leaders and teachers across Australia, New Zealand and now in the United Kingdom, the Middle East and Ibero-America.
John has been a high school teacher, a curriculum development advisor, a management consultant in the corporate sector and, since 2004, has been leading GCI. He regularly speaks at coaching in education events across Australia and internationally.
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