Here at the-Coaching Blog-run by Gerard O’Donovan, our aim is to constantly bring value to those seeking to improve their lives. Therefore we have a policy of publishing articles and materials by guest authors whom we value and appreciate. Today’s guest author is Dr. Keith Merron (USA)
Seven executive coaches sat in a coach’s roundtable, each eager to learn from the others; each also feeling a sense of comfort and satisfaction in rubbing elbows with others with similar challenges. Dan, the youngest of the group, was talking about the difficulty he had with one of his clients, a CEO of a growing food chain. Dan, felt, and perhaps rightly so, that his client was overly demanding of his team and told his fellow coaches how he offered guidance to the CEO and how difficult the CEO was—basically how the CEO resisted what was clearly sage advice.
‘Been there, done that,’ responded the wizened elder of the group as he listened compassionately. ‘I’ve got the same problem,’ offered another member of the roundtable. ‘It’s a tough one,’ replied a third. The others all nodded in understanding. Dan felt enormously relieved.
After recounting his story more fully, Dan asked what seemed to everyone to be the natural question. Actually, it was a question they all expected him to ask, and he obliged. ‘What should I do?’
Each member of the group in turn, offered their suggestions. One said that this was par for the course and that Dan shouldn’t worry. ‘Keep at it. The CEO will eventually see the light of day.’ Another pointed out that the more Dan befriended the CEO, the better. It was clear to this coach, that ‘the relationship wasn’t yet solid,’ and then offered a couple of ideas for how to do that well. Each suggestion was delivered from within a paradigm embedded in the person advising—basically a theory of coaching success born out of a set of assumptions and beliefs. In no case did the coach delivering the suggestion own the paradigm. And in no case did the group discuss whether giving advice to each other was helpful. They did it rather automatically in spite of the fact that many of them professed to give more than advice when working with their clients.
To all, it was rather obvious. This is a forum for helping each other. When someone asks for help, and when we have little time, give that person advice. That’s what we are here for. In fact, that is how the whole group is set up, to give and get advice from each other about how to give and get advice or provide good counsel to their clients. No-one considered that such a setup is both flawed and limited. None considered that there might be a more powerful way.
Dan left the meeting with a bunch of suggestions of what he could do, two of which particularly resonated. The others he discarded, reasoning that they did not apply to his particular situation, especially when one understood the more detailed aspects of it, which the other coaches in the roundtable did not. Without knowing, and without truly knowing the part that Dan played in the drama (they didn’t know because they didn’t ask), their suggestions were more like throwing moist spaghetti on the wall and seeing what sticks.
Dan left feeling, well, just okay. While the suggestions were useful, he didn’t experience any insight about himself. Nor did he learn anything that profound. He didn’t say this to the group for to say it would violate an unspoken agreement that we are all pleasant, understanding, and kind to each other, so he said nothing. Instead, he thanked them for their help. Which of course led them all to feel a sense of self-satisfaction.
This is often how we help each other. We don’t go very deep. We don’t invite others to look fully at their own part in the problem they are trying to solve. We don’t wonder about the assumptions and beliefs embedded in the very way the problem is defined or the solutions offered. We just give guidance and advice. And we play a game where the advice seeker believes he or she has done everything possible, so the advice received gets rejected as ‘too simple,’ or ‘unworkable,’ and where the advice giver believes that the person receiving the advice isn’t really that impressed, but we walk away with some satisfaction in telling ourselves, ‘well, I did the best I could. Clearly he/she is unopened.’
This is not a column about how to give advice. Advice is cheap and giving more of it will unlikely penetrate the deeper causes of anyone’s problem. Instead, it is a column designed to unlock the keys to truly helping others solve problems. To appreciate this column may require, you, the reader, to question all of your assumptions as to what help truly is or means, and to explore an alternative that we might no longer even call help. We might call it something else. In other words, the column itself is based on a way of understanding problems solutions that is designed to challenge one’s prior assumptions about the nature of help itself. It is designed to challenge your paradigm about help and the helping profession.
In this column, I will offer stories, examples, experiences, models, and perspectives designed to help coaches, or anyone seeking to coach others penetrate the deeper patterns of our clients such that our clients walk away both helped and more importantly, transformed. I will draw from research on the subject of how the mind works, as well as my own 36 years of experience working with executives and aiding them in their journey toward greater leadership mastery. Mostly, through this column, my intent is to challenge some of the prevailing assumptions about the nature of help and find more powerful, more penetrating alternatives.
About Dr. Keith Merron
Keith Merron is the Managing Partner of Leadership Pathways, a consulting firm dedicated to helping organisations with bold visions achieve sustainable high performance and industry leadership. As an organisation effectiveness and an executive development consultant, he has more than 35 years of experience assisting executives and managers in business, government, and education.
In the context of his consulting, he works with the C-suite as a transformational coach. In addition, Keith has designed and led over 100 seminars and workshops for leaders. He has helped create some of the most innovative leadership training programs in the country.
Keith received his Doctorate from Harvard University in 1985, where his studies spanned the fields of human and organisation development. He is the author of five books on human and organisational change and is putting the finishing touches on a new book, tentatively titled: The Art of Transformational Coaching.
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