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Coaching to Flourish #092: Coaching Tools as a Guide for Curiosity

October 18, 2023 by Coach Training EDU

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Raj Anderson and guest experts answer your coaching questions each week!

In Coaching to Flourish episode #092, Raj and John delve into the world of coaching tools! They discuss how these structured processes help clients, the significance of creating immersive coaching experiences, and the value of selecting the right tool for individual clients. Raj and John also share their favorite coaching tools, and other insights on transformative growth. Join us for this special episode!

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[Raj Anderson] We're live. Welcome everyone to the coaching to flourish podcast. And I'm your host, Raj Anderson, executive life coach and coach assessor. And I'm here with John Andrew Williams, who's the founder of coach training edu. I know lots of exciting things have been happening over the last few days with you and coach training edu. So how are you, John? What have you been up to? 

[John Andrew Williams] Good. You know, so Raj and I just met in person in Orlando. And you know, working remote, I've worked with people all over, and then you get a chance to meet, and it's fun. You know, there's that initial like, Ooh, what's it going to be like? And then once you get in there, it's fun. So I'm still riding high from the week conference with the national association of college advisors in Orlando and getting back into it. I'm more excited than ever for the field of coaching. And it was really good to see other perspectives too, on what coaching can bring to other professions. So I feel pretty psyched. Really good. 

[Raj Anderson] Yeah, me too. It was fantastic to connect with you, John, and the team. And I was able to connect with Ashley and Britt as well. And I think for me it's that reminder of just the power of connection, isn't it? Energy, inspiration, we were able to bounce ideas off each other, you know, use each other as a sounding board. It reminded me a bit of what coaching itself is like, when you connect with someone. 

[John Andrew Williams] Totally. Yeah, agreed. 

[Raj Anderson] Before we get into the topic, I'm just curious then, you said from this experience, the event that you were at, thinking about where coaching sits and what's happening in the coaching world. Is there anything that you would want to share with the listeners around that? 

[John Andrew Williams] Yeah. I was struck by where I feel like the future of the advising profession, and the coaching profession, where both of those are going to play in the higher education space. And I think what's going to happen is that advising will adopt more and more of a coach-like stance, with really helping students navigate that inner geography. And I think coaching is going to have its own department in a lot of these universities and schools. 

So what we heard a lot of, the current trend right now is, administrators who understand the difference between coaching and advising, a lot of these administrators, they are being coached. So they now have firsthand experience with what a coaching session is like, how it's different from advising, and so they can see the benefit of it. And so now they're establishing separate coaching departments that follow alongside advising departments. That's pretty cool. 

And now what we have, our job as coaches now is to figure out how to market coaching to students, so they know, okay, this is what it's like. This is how it's different from advising. This is how I can use it in my life, and to look at it more like a thing to help them go from good to great rather than something - the word that comes to mind is palliative, which is a silly word. You know, not remedial, not something that you're using because something's hurting or you're in pain, but more, it's going well, I want to make sure it continues to go well and maybe even make it go even better. And now let me go do my coaching session. I think that's the space that a lot of these schools are playing in with these new departments.

[Raj Anderson] Thank you for sharing that, John. It kind of connects very nicely with the topic for today. So we're going to be discussing the usefulness of tools in coaching. 

And when I'm thinking about tools as well, it's, you know, how do we help our clients, our coachees, to learn and grow. You know, how do we use tools in the coaching experience? And for me, it's helping them to bridge the gap between not just learning about a topic, but when we introduce a tool, they experience that topic from their own world, their own perspective. And as coaches, we aren't training somebody in what the tool is, we are coaching them to see how that tool works for them, and how applicable it is. So how would you describe what a coaching tool is, John? 

[John Andrew Williams] Yeah, that's a great question. I appreciate what you're saying too about how a lot of these things can be viewed as tools. Let's start with the definition of a tool. I think the definition in my mind is something that has a set - like a tool, a coaching tool, is different from a coaching core competency. And so a coaching tool has a set beginning and an end, and a process in between. So there's a place that you know, these are the starting points I need to hit, this is a possible middle process, and then this is the end result. 

So I think from a process standpoint, a coaching tool is a process. Which is different from, let's say a core competency, which is let's say active listening or powerful questions, or you know, following your client, dancing in the moment. These kinds of things are present at all times in powerful coaching sessions. It's what makes coaching coaching. 

So then you go to, okay, so where did it come from? Why are these tools? How and why? And a lot of coaching, as I experienced it, came out of humanistic psychology. It borrowed a lot from narrative therapy, you're looking at different activities that people do in acting classes and you apply that to your own life. For instance, if you were looking at your life as if you are the main character in your own life, what does that main character need? You know, coaching goes there. 

Tools - I took a neurolinguistic programming training from Linda Gale Campbell. This is back in the mid 2000s. And neurolinguistic programming, I liked it. I took the NLP after I took coaching. And so for me, coaching represented the structure that felt very fluid. Very adaptable. Very, I'm going to follow my client wherever my client wants to go, and if I'm using powerful questions and active listening, we're going to get some amazing insight and then we'll figure this out once we get there. NLP to me felt very formulaic. It felt very much like, this is step one, here's step two, here's step three. And by the end of that, you get to this process. 

Now the Eureka moment for me was when I was I was training - I was training as a coach, I was working as a Latin teacher, and then I took NLP. And I realized, this is the bridge, having more of these tools and structures - which wasn’t at there much at the coaching that I took. I mean, the coaching training I took was very allergic to these kinds of, you know, 1, 2, 3 step procedure things. But it was exactly this kind of step, procedure thing that needed to be put in place if you're working with students. Because I realized students didn't often have the awareness or the background in order to do what I would consider just free flowing coaching. But I felt like NLP was still too structured for what students need.

So, a mixture between the free flowing coaching and the structure of step 1, step 2, step 3 - there's a sweet spot in the middle of those 2 things. And that was the moment when I realized, okay, this is something I can use with students. And then from there, when I got into the executive world, when I was working as an executive coach, I realized these tools are pretty good. These things work. Let's bring them into the executive space. And then it became a synergistic, they were building off each other. 

And that's how this happened. You know, that's how the academic life coaching program happened, that's how even the executive and wellness programs - that's the historical background.

[Raj Anderson] Thank you, John. So when we're referring to tools in this context, here in a coaching session, and I know coach training EDU delivers training on all different kinds of tools - asking coaching questions itself is a form of using a tool. Or holding space or pause could even be, you could take it one step further, it can be a tool in itself. But when you think about this bank of tools, or the learning that you share through coach training EDU, they're almost like activities or exercises. What's the difference? 

[John Andrew Williams] Yeah, I like thinking of a tool - so examples, like future self, right? The future self is a tool where a coach will ask a client to visualize yourself in the future, a certain number of years, let's say 5 years to 10 years, and create a relationship with that person. So you can imagine if your future self - like my future self, your future self, everyone who's listening’s future selves, all walked in the space you're in. Or you know, let's say you're in a car and listening to this, you pull over and your future self hops in the seat. Now we're in the tool. Now we've created a structure. We have established a means for a coach to get curious, in a emotion, thought-rich environment. 

And now all the kind of questions are, okay, what would your present self be most curious about? If you really were to ask your future self, you know, let's say 9 year future you, 5 questions, what would those questions be? Now we're in the middle part. And then the end part is, okay, now that we've coached here, we've explored here, how do you want to take this into action step? What would your present self do? What are the action steps? What's the outcome of the tool? 

And so it's a very, it's like having a defined process in a toolbox, that you can pick one out and go, okay, now I'm using the future self tool. A different kind of process when you're dealing with inner critics, a different kind of process when you're dealing with perspectives. You know, different kind of process when you're trying to value balance. So all of these things start to stack. 

And then you start as a coach, as a trained coach, you have, I don't know, a few dozen tools. And then you can start to mix and match, and use in different places, and put them together even. Like, how does your future self deal with their inner critic? Things like that. I mean, it gets, it gets fun. So what is that, 32 tools by the power of 31 or whatever it is, like, how many different combinations could you possibly hit? Yeah, that's what we're playing with. 

[Raj Anderson] What I love, what you just shared there, John, you were talking about that emotion-rich thought experience. So we're using this as a process, yet it creates an experience where the individual can connect their senses as well. They can step into this, feel it and hear it and see it. So it's beyond just a tool on a sheet, it helps the individual to step into something, to shift their perspective or see something new.

[John Andrew Williams] Yeah. I mean, that's the heart of it. You're helping, in a coaching session, you are creating a space where people can try on different selves, different emotion, different thoughts, different what if’s, and then see how they land. I mean, our bodies are finely tuned instruments that will react. And then being able to, as a coach, be finely tuned to subtle changes in your client. It's amazing the kind of curiosity that you can get. Especially working when you're working within a structure of a tool, it often acts as a guide for your curiosity. 

So you know that a coach really is smooth when the tool feels so integrated, like they've taken it and they've really looked at it for a period of time. The conversations, they sound just like a good conversation at a coffee shop. LIKE you might not even know that a coach is using the tool, That's how smooth it can sound, you know, as you're moving on here. 

[Raj Anderson] That's a great tip there, use the tool as a guide for curiosity. Because often when I'm assessing coaches, when they're new to the tool, they might be new to coaching, it can get a little bit panicked about the execution of the tool, and wanting to execute it perfectly. And, I didn't really want to risk using it, because I didn't know if I could do it well enough or do it perfectly. So I liked that perspective of using it as a guide for curiosity. What words of wisdom do you have for coaches who feel, Oh, I don't know if I can bring this tool out, I don't know it well enough? 

[John Andrew Williams] Yeah, I mean, you're in there too, with training and assessing .So in the training design, I've thought about this a lot - there's no real way, there's no real great way to both say, okay, in the training session, you're now going to give amazing coaching, and we're going to learn this tool that we have already predetermined, this is the week for that tool. So there's a tension between, I want to be really good as a coach, and I need to practice to become good. But sometimes you know, this week, the tool is, let's say inner critic, it doesn't quite fit with what my client needs the most right now. So there's a little bit of, no, we're just learning this tool just to learn this tool, and when you go out into the real world, you'll have a bank of tools, you can pick which one fits the best. 

So I think sometimes coaches, what they do in the training is they're in the training, they're using a tool that's not quite a perfect fit, and it shakes confidence a little bit. Because you're realizing, ah, this doesn't quite fit that well. So I think there's just an understanding that that's just the process of learning the tool. When you get into working in sessions out there with clients it's easier, it's actually easier the more you do this. So I would say, please just breathe, lean into growth mindset, and practice. That’s what I would say. 

I'm curious Raj, your experience too with this, what have been the tools that you found are the most useful when you're working with your clients in the executive spaces? Or what are the tools that you found that your clients love the most?

[Raj Anderson] Yeah, that's a great question. Inner critic is up there, especially when working with leaders. And I think it stems from that imposter syndrome, that internal dialogue, how they want to represent themselves. So inner critic is loved. Anything that is also focusing on values, culture that they want to create as a leader, values exercise, values activity is loved. There's so much insight and learning that happens from that. 

Core motivation, core motivation. People really enjoy the reflection, and because there's so many different parts to it. It's not just about discovering your core motivation, it's also, well, how does that core motivation show up when you are fearful? How does it help you with your leadership strengths? And the bit that I find that leaders really enjoy as well is how to communicate with others, their core motivation type. 

[John Andrew Williams] That's fun. Yeah. 

[Raj Anderson] And the good old wheel of life. Sorry, I just remembered that one, John. Simple, but so effective. 

[John Andrew Williams] The assessment wheels are always - I mean, any assessment is fun, and it just creates opportunities for jumping off points for the rest of your coaching session. No, it's really fun to hear - it's just funny to hear the tools and, you know, just feel the energy. Even just thinking, yes. 

Especially for people who are new to coaching, when they get into the coaching tools, they can often feel relevatory. Like, wow, like this is so simple, but yet it's still so profound. And I feel like, for any new coaches out there, it took me two years before I stopped trying to prove the worth of the field, or prove the worth of each session, or prove the worth of myself as a coach to really realize, no, like you can relax. You can let the tool do its job, and you don't have to define a problem and solve a problem in a session, and then prove how that solved problem is worth whatever hourly rate you're charging, or whatever rate of the session is. Release that, let it go. Trust the tool, you can trust the process, you can trust yourself. And your client. 

And that's what I feel like tools give you, is they give you an increased trust, because you can use the tool to guide you. And I've tested all of these things, in my own life and the lives of clients. Yes, they work, and they are evidence based. We have studies and - in future self, for example, there are so many studies that show the value and benefit of considering yourself in the future, and then playing with ideas of, is that person the same person as you, or is it a different person from you? There are pros and cons to both of those perspectives. 

So when you start exploring this world, it starts to become very interesting. And you realize what you as an individual are attracted to the most, like what works for you. And then you know a tool is really working when you have a name for it, when you have a name to grab that tool again and go, Oh, future self, and have a name for your future self, and conversate with your future self. That's when you know things are really cooking. 

[Raj Anderson] There's real power, isn't there, behind creating names and meaning and associations for the individual, because it helps them to really connect with it. You know, I talk about ‘sticky learning.’ And I was joking the other day, I launched a new program around allyship, and one of the things we were talking about is the power of self reflection and the coaching questions, asking ourself even those questions. And I did make a joke, you know, I've done lots of courses in my life, I have an MBA - I couldn't tell you what I did in most of those modules, I really couldn't. Yet I can share what I've learned in a coaching session or a group coaching session, or the things that I learned when I was studying at coach training EDU, because the difference was I made connection points that were relevant to me and my world, and that's why it's stuck. 

[John Andrew Williams] Yeah. I mean, when you bring yourself into something, it's extremely powerful. That's what I feel like coaching does. 

[Raj Anderson] What are some of your own favorite tools, John? 

[John Andrew Williams] Oh, what have I been working with lately? I've been really loving the distinction between a strategy and planning, and thinking in terms of systems and processes. For the organization, Coach Training EDU and Academic Life Coaching, the strategy is, on the back end has been streamlining. So I've been looking at everything, asking how can we streamline this? How can we make this more efficient and effective? And there's an element of excitement in looking at, defining the problem and creating - there's a developer I'm working with and he often will say, like, can we define the problem? Awesome. And that's not always an easy thing to do. But we oftentimes take it for granted. 

And so you can ask yourself, even the challenge you're facing right now in your own life, define the problem. Sometimes it's not - write it down. And then you can ask, okay, is this the problem I want to solve, or is there a better problem for me to solve? Or, what's under the problem? So now we're working with agenda, things like this. 

But now you start thinking, what's the process I can use? What's the strategy? And a strategy is an if-then thing. So if I do this, then this thing will happen. It's a guess, it's a hypothesis, it's not a for sure thing. And whenever you're playing in these unknowns, I've learned I can't trust that any one thing will happen, but I can trust that a percentage of things will happen, if I do this work, if I do that, if these things go through. So that's the space I've been playing with a lot, is this idea of, what's the strategy I'm employing, what is the planning, and then how am I following up, and those kinds of things. Yeah, that's where my head's been going a lot. 

[Raj Anderson] So John, say if we were looking at strategy, or systems as tools, it could be easy for a coach to just focus on creating a system. So for example, maybe the problem or topic that a client has got is, I don't have enough time. This is one that I hear a lot. It's one I looked at myself even the other day, I don't have enough time. And some of that for me, if I'm thinking about myself, was about some of the things that I need to streamline. Yet there was also all the deeper bits, the ‘being’ bits. So how do you balance that in a coaching session, between kind of creating a system and looking at a plan or what's working, what's not working, and then what might be below the surface? 

[John Andrew Williams] Like finding deeper agendas, that kind of thing? Yeah, that's a good question. I'm trying to think of, how do we teach this? And I don't know if there's any way to really teach it except to help someone be open to the experience of it, the experience of how do you find those deeper agendas, or how do you get to deeper levels of coaching?

And for myself, I know what it feels like because I've done it. And I know you know what it feels like too Raj, like, experienced coaches will know. It's a feeling, for me it's a feeling. Like when a client will present a problem or, Hey, I want to focus on this, then there's usually a, Okay, and then what else? And then you hear something and you just feel, yeah, that feels like something solid and tangible that we could really dig into. 

And what I'm looking for is not necessarily trying to solve the problem, but I'm looking for, how can I use this problem to create an insight? And the insight is more valuable than, let's say, you didn't even have this problem, like, you had the solution to the problem or the answer to the problem - the insight’s more valuable than even the answer to the problem. For example, to make it all tangible, I've been redesigning the business course - I know we're over time. I mean, we're hitting our time - we're getting there.

I've been looking, designing the leadership course, the business course, the inclusion equity course, like, a lot of research is going into this in the last couple years, months. This book, ‘This is Marketing' by Seth Godin - there is a shift. So if coaches, business people, even people in organizations, schools, universities, when they're asking themselves, how can I get more coaching clients, or how can I get more coaching sessions? 

So if the problem is defined as, how can I get more of these sessions, it's not a high quality problem, because you're focused on what you can receive. If you want to flip it, and what Godin is talking about in his book is the higher quality question or the higher quality problem is, how can I give more value to my target audience by doing the work of standing for something, of of trying to make a change, in not just the people you work with directly, but in society in general.

And when you ask yourself the question, how can I give your gifts, so I can be more effective and create the change I want to change, that's a higher quality problem. And so what coaching will do when you're in coaching sessions, is it helps you find the higher quality problems. And that's it. Like, that's the game. You know, that's a huge part of the game. And so if you find yourself asking, how am I going to get more clients? No, it's, how can I give more? How can I create art? How can I create something that inspires action? That's the question. You answer that question, you'll have all the clients you need. 

[Raj Anderson] Thank you, John. We need to pick this up. I think there's more around this, this was really valuable. And what I'm taking away, and just to summarize here, is the insight is more important than the problem, asking those higher quality questions around that. Staying in curiosity, we all know curiosity is our superpower as coaches. And then I think when it comes to tools, when you're learning them, I would say, keep it simple.

[John Andrew Williams] Thank you, Raj. It's so fun to see you again, like in here and in person. And I think we are gonna put a conference on, we're looking September 2024, for Coach Training EDU, academic life coaching. This is all very tentative, you know, we're not sure yet, and probably it's gonna be in Denver.

[Raj Anderson] Fantastic. Okay, we will manifest that, set the vision. It'll be fantastic to see everyone. Thank you to the listeners. Please send us your questions. Thank you as always, John, and look forward to seeing you next time.

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