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Coaching to Flourish #095: Deepening Client Learning

December 13, 2023 by Coach Training EDU

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In this episode of Coaching to Flourish, host Raj Anderson and CTEDU founder John Andrew Williams focus on client’s learning and the shift from solution hunting to insight hunting. They explore the importance of understanding clients' motivations at a deep level, the impact of education on coaching principles, and what we as coaches learn about ourselves in the process. Join us for these layered coaching insights!

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Raj Anderson: Welcome everyone to the Coaching to Flourish podcast, and I'm your host Raj Anderson, Executive Life Coach and Coach Assessor. And I am delighted to be here with John Andrew Williams who's the founder of Coach Training EDU. How are you John?

John Andrew Williams: Doing great. Yeah, doing really great. It's been a good week. Feeling optimistic about the world, what we're able to do here with coaching skills. You know, the world needs us. It needs more empathy, more listening, more heart, all these things.  

Raj Anderson: Absolutely. And I know we're going to be talking a bit about clients learning today. Yet I've been reading some posts, and it is November, or Movember, focusing on men's health and mental health as well. And there still seems to be a bit of stigma around talking about supporting men on topics around health and mental health, and I noticed you talking about empathy right now. So what are your thoughts on Movember, or men's health and men's mental health? 

John Andrew Williams: Yeah. Well I think, I don't know, to be a perfectly transparent. I mean, if you look historically, so much of  the way society is structured has been really structured to help men. And if you're looking even at the medical system, so much of it is just, I feel like a lot of the default has been men's health. It's fascinating to see society come full circle  and really help men express more vulnerability. I think it's amazing. And I've seen it, different circles of men, they adopt it more than others, but there definitely is a trend of men being more vulnerable. Even just talking about mental health, I think that's a really positive trend. I'm not in touch with is it going national or not, it's not what I have looked at recently, but  just from my very limited personal perspective, that's what I've seen.  

Raj Anderson: And talking about personal perspective, what about you? I know you take care of yourself and your health, and there are activities that you do, you've talked about even how you start your day and your own mental health. What tips would you share with others around how you take care of yourself?  

John Andrew Williams: That's a good question. I think one of the biggest things is having a coach. That's huge. There are times when I have, you know, worked with a coach, and then there are times when I let it float for a bit. And the times I'm working with a coach are just better. 

And I don't think it's a one size fits all. I think that a lot of it, I mean, I have a lot of ideas that are not necessarily coach training related, things that I don't have a lot of, let's say backing from - you know, positive psychology or studies - but just things that I do, things I've seen work really well. I think the bottom line in all of this stuff is set up personal experiments, try things. And what I've been really focusing on lately is how to try things quickly. And the idea is, let's say you want to try being accountable for exercising. Then, you know, try it. Try it and try to fail quickly. Try to test out the idea as quickly as possible.

I think what happens is a lot of times people, myself included, have an idea of, Oh, this thing I'm going to do in the future will solve this problem. So if I do - you know, in terms of business things - if this happens business wise, then this is going to be the result. Or exercise wise, like, Oh, when I finish this project or when this period of life is over, then I'll do this thing, and then that will help. That kind of thinking is - it might work, that kind of thinking, you need a little bit of that. But to manage that kind of thinking, especially when it comes around health. So I have a personal theory of finding a state of, like a physical boundary. In a way of like pushing yourself to exhaustion, or pushing yourself to falling off something. And I feel like when I get to that state, it's an emotional mental cleanse. I'm on a bike or I'm on a foil, or I'm on something that has opportunities for failure. 

And we need opportunities for failure in order to access flow. It's one of the requirements. But a lot of times people in business or personal lives, we don't want to fail. Obviously it's not a fun thing to do, but we need opportunities for failure in order to experience flow. It is an ingredient. So in the physical world, when I'm on a foil - you know, one of those boards that has a staff and a fin - it feels like flying. And I'll go out for an hour, hour and a half session. I'll fall at least a dozen times in that water. And it's a space, when you're falling, it's just, you're wiped clean. Nothing there. You're in the water, got to go swim and find your board. Rinse and repeat, literally rinse and repeat.  

Raj Anderson: John, that sounds like a really great metaphor as well for clients learning. It's a key component in the teachings, isn't it, when you’re training to be a coach. How does that connect for you with that chapter, or with that learning on clients learning? 

John Andrew Williams: Yeah. A big change or shift happened in my coaching when I stopped trying to solution hunt, and started to insight hunt. Or I stopped trying to solve the problem, but almost in my coaching sessions make the problem worse.  So for instance, let's say a client - just for the sake of an easy one, an easy topic - the client says, I want to exercise more. Great. So if you're trying to solve the problem, then the focus becomes, okay, what are the steps? What can I say? How can I motivate or cajole my client into doing these action steps on a regular basis? And that becomes the focus of the session. 

If you're looking at insight hunting, the question that becomes, what is happening right now? What's the narrative that your client says about themselves or the outside world, or whatever is happening? What's the insight waiting for that client, that will not only give an insight into the narrative around why they're not exercising, but also into the narrative of why they aren't living their biggest life? What is it in them that's not helping them take those extra, those big steps? And those big steps are scary. This stuff is not for the faint of heart. It takes a ton of courage to be vulnerable, to be out there, to do things that open yourself up to criticism. This, the work becomes that deeper level really quickly.

And so a lot of coaches in coach training, they'll ask, well how do I get to that deeper level?  Like when I hear like MCC coach, I hear you coach, I hear Raj coach, when I hear Hannah coach, it almost feels like we're getting to a place where this becomes really meaningful, really quickly. How does that happen? And this is exactly how it happens. Because a new coach might focus on coming up with those action steps, solving it. An experienced coach trusts that those action steps will happen. But we're going for those deeper levels, really quickly.  

I had a coaching session with my coach. Something came up. I said, look, I just got to chat this out. The question he asked, which I thought was brilliant, was, how's your heart in all of this? How's your heart doing?  And it just was one of those things where you don't, you know what I mean? That question was not on my mind. That wasn't there. But he introduced it. I had to interrupt my normal mental-emotional habit. And that interrupted habit, I checked in. I checked in. That's not solution hunting. It's an invitation to have a conversation that can change a life. That's what coaching is about. 

Raj Anderson: Wow. How's your heart? What a great question. That would stop me in my tracks, for sure.  

John Andrew Williams: Yeah. And it's a lovely question to have in your pocket. You know, like you're just going through somethin g, let me check in. How's my heart? We’ll do it right now, everyone listening. How's your heart? 

Raj Anderson: Yeah. Insight hunting. So as I'm listening to you in terms of insight hunting versus kind of attempting to solve a problem, and you just gave a question there, which is helping the individual connect on that deeper level. What about client's learning and motivation? I guess I'm going there because I'm thinking about what was some of the things that really shifted me as well, to take care of my health and wellbeing? 

It took me a really long time to start to put myself first. And actually what really did help me was some of the motivation tools, that I realized that I am motivated by wanting to make an impact, and of course, values as well. What's really important to me is that I role model the things that I am training on, or if I'm consulting, facilitating the things that I'm living by, in terms of spirituality. Role modeling is important to me. I always talk to people about not, you got to put your own oxygen mask on. You can't serve from an empty vessel. And I have a value of integrity. 

So actually, when my coach was digging deeper with me around my motivation, motivation for myself wasn't enough. That's what I learned. Because I just wasn't used to putting myself first. What do you think about that, John? 

John Andrew Williams: Yeah. Everyone has a unique balance of what motivates them the most. And  understanding who you are, like what, you know, what really gets you moving, it's priceless. And so from a client's learning standpoint, it's, what are you learning about your motivation? What are you learning about your style of motivation, your unique style? And it's unique to everyone. That's way more important than answering the question, what's going to get you to exercise?

And ironically, if you look at what motivates you in everything, you will also answer what motivates you to exercise. But you don't find what motivates you and everything if you only search for the answer for exercise. You have to use exercise, or whatever it is that you're not doing, use that as a foil, as a playground, as a gymnasium, as a training grounds for you to find that universal answer for yourself. 

So in coaching sessions, I don't even want to find out what motivates you for exercise. I want to find out, what is that deeper thing? What is it that you really after?  What do you really, really want in your life? We go there, all the other answers fall into place. 

Raj Anderson: And that's that deeper level, isn't it? I'm thinking about when I listen to coaches coach as well, and sometimes they miss perhaps, or there is an avoidance, or they want to jump quickly to action. Or perhaps the learning questions feel a bit obvious. Now there's some very simple learning questions you can ask someone that can just get them to stop, and start to reflect. Why do you think sometimes coaches miss out those learning questions? 

John Andrew Williams: I think our society doesn't teach us to do this. Traditional school, grades especially. We're literally growing up in structures and systems where the most important tests in our lives are multiple choice, the tests that have the biggest impact on the trajectory of your future, like what happens in the next 5 to 10 years of your life, those tests are mostly multiple choice. And there are known right answers, and you're going to get judged, and you're going to get graded according to how well you do in those answers. 

We're not teaching people how to learn about themselves. There are no courses in traditional high school, middle schools, high schools, colleges, that say, you, can you describe your motivation style? Can you describe your top five perspectives and how you use them? I mean, this is the bread and butter of coaching. And it's just not, it's not yet making its way into education, but it will. It will because it works. 

And if you look historically in the arc of how education operates, it looks at what's happening, you know, what is the most successful thing that's happened in the executive world, in the wellness world, in the mental health world, in the science world? What are the most successful things happening in those fields? And then they trickle into education. We're seeing it happen in some education programs. But if you look at what's happening right now in education, yeah, it feels like maybe, you know, how many new concepts are being introduced into our education models right now? Is fixed mindset versus growth mindset being introduced in meaningful ways in education? That's a big question. 

So from the standpoint of all these questions, what's happening with you, where are you at? I feel like this has the biggest impact on our life. This is the coaching question.  

Raj Anderson: And that's so powerful, John. I mean, before this started, you and I were talking about your daughter, and what she's learning in that role that she's playing at the moment. What's significant about that?  

John Andrew Williams: Yeah. She got Regina and Mean Girls. And the role's a gift, in the local high school. And in preparation for it, just watching her do it, I mean, it's a proud parent moment. It's the coolest thing, one of the coolest things. And watching her approach it, very much of a growth mindset.

It's, this role is not the ending, it's the beginning.  And it's not for her to prove her talent. She's already done that. It's for her to have opportunities to put in more effort, and to use these roles, to use the things in our lives that are gifts like this, and asking, okay, I have an invitation to go all out in my effort right now. How do you want to use that invitation? That's our approach. That's the perspective, that's the mindset, right? And so with that, it puts the pressure where I feel like the pressure needs to be, which is on the amount of effort, on the amount of preparation, on the ability to continue to get more insights. Not pressure on, Oh, I need to perform a certain way so I can prove I have a certain level of talent.

I mean, imagine approaching a coaching session like that, or coaching business like that. It all shifts away from, how can I do this so I can prove I have the talent to be a good coach, versus, how can I structure my life and work day that I can consistently put in the effort that's needed over the long haul? You can almost feel the difference, you know, in the stress levels, even just asking those two questions. And over the long run, it matters. 

She's been in this mindset for years, I’m not surprised where she's at right now. And I mean, yeah, there's pressure, there's nerves, but it's not the same. There's a different quality when people are feeling nervous because they need to prove their talent, versus feeling nervous because they know they're entering another effort session. 

Raj Anderson: Yeah. Taking that pressure off of not feeling that you have to prove something is such a gift, isn't it? I'm thinking about, I ask myself nearly every day that the simple question, especially at the end of the day, what did I learn about myself today? Very simple. Just that question. And you know, sometimes it's like, Oh, you know, this went really well, or actually I wasn't on top form or something was missing. And none of that is a criticism for me. It's like, what was happening? What was going on? What might have been missing? Perhaps it's a day that I didn't sleep very well, or I didn't take care of myself very well. Or perhaps I missed something in my own preparation. Yet there is so much freedom in asking that question versus punishing yourself. There is, okay, well, what did I learn from it? What could I do differently? Also, what can I celebrate about myself in that learning, or gratitude?  

John Andrew Williams: That's it. Those are the big ones. I'm curious in terms of, how consistent are you, and do you notice when you don't do it? Yeah. Not very coachy questions. The beginning of a coachy question would be… right? What difference does that difference make?  

Raj Anderson: I like that. What difference does the difference make?  I think it's become more of a habit for me now, observing myself and learning about myself, but it took effort. You know, I had to consistently - as I said, in my journal, three questions at the end of the day, and sometimes I didn't do it, and then I would fall off. And now it is more of that habit, as I say. Yet when I miss certain things like that, that kind of question - and gratitude in particular - the difference is falling into certain habits, or being a bit short,  maybe a bit grumpy. Judgy, judgy with myself. 

Never in a coaching session, I think you reach a certain place where I'm just able to step into certain being, and that's practice. You know, you kind of just flow into the coaching session. It's almost like a different space for me that is judgment free. It's almost, I take on this different presence when I'm in there. Yet I notice it outside of there. I can see you smiling, John. 

John: Yeah, I mean, it's pretty consistent. Experienced coaches often say the same things exactly. You just, there's a certain ease. When I'm coaching, it feels like, I don't know. It's a certain, maybe sacred space might be a great word to describe it. Or a  consistent space, a familiar space, a space where you give yourself permission to let everything else go, except what you're listening for and listening to and listening with, with your client. And it just feels easy. I like it. I love it. It feels like, ah, okay, I get to be here. And I know that here is enough. Like, my being here is enough right now for humanity.  And that's a really sweet spot to be in. Especially when you know with utter certainty that you're delivering tremendous value. The confidence that you have in that space is lovely. And I just, I just heard that.

Raj Anderson: Yeah, I could feel it. 

John Andrew Williams: Feel it. It's nice. You know, experienced coaches know this space. Know it well.  

Raj Anderson: And I could feel that I'm not carrying anything into it, and I'm not carrying anything out of it either. So outside of kind of flowing into that space, as I said, what I notice in myself, the difference when those things aren't happening is, as I said, potentially slipping into some old patterns. Or, you know, just not being that version of myself that I really want to be. A bit of irritation, grumpiness, as I said.

John Andrew Williams: Yeah. I resonate with that. I'm curious too, what happens when we get super old, if we make it to 80, 90, God willing, and have you know, 50, 60 years of coach training, what that life, what that mind is like? You know, what is that mind that has had 50 years of coaching skills? What happens? What I'm finding - you know, I'm 20 years in - and feeling like there's a certain enjoyment to have in that space. It's like a slip into a level two very easily, like an empathetic, active, empathetic listen very easily. I don't know, I wonder what another 20 years will feel like. 

Raj Anderson: It reminds me, I started watching a show on living to a hundred, The Blues Zones.  I don't know if you've seen it, it was a few episodes on Netflix. And I was fascinated by hearing these stories. These people who'd reached a hundred and above, and they're in Okinawa and they were talking about their ikigai, right, their purpose and their passion. And the things that were coming up, you know, the themes, I haven't watched all of it, but there were these certain themes that were coming up, in not just how they eat or they take care of their body, but practicing gratitude, connection, just being in flow was another one. There was some shepherds, and how they talked about their stress being controlled stress They felt that it was in their control versus out of their control, and how they were in flow space. So loads of insights I was taking from that.  

John Andrew Williams: Go get that flow state. I really, I mean, just going back to the first question around, I have a personal theory. And it's that our society, a lot of our flow, a lot of the opportunities for failure, we get them while we're sitting. And there's a different kind of experience when you have the flow state. The opportunity for failure comes when you're using your physicality. And getting exercise, it matters. And having not just exercise, but opportunities for failure while exercising, like falling over. You know, are you exercising or are you doing stuff where you can fall? You know, fall in water - fall safely, fall safely.  But I think it matters. And I think that it's, we do it in high school, we sometimes do it in college, you know, when you're playing sports. It could be tennis, it could be lacrosse, could be basketball, but whatever, when you have an opportunity to fail, that's when flow can happen. And a lot of adults don't have that. 

Raj Anderson: Thank you John. I can't believe we're at time, because we could keep talking about this. You know, we're talking about learning and I'm learning so much. And the themes that I heard around, you know, there is learning that happens from failure, what is the power of being in flow state? You know, how mental health, physical health, it all matters. Having a coach to hold you accountable is super impactful. What would you like to close us out with today?  

John Andrew Williams: You did it. Yeah. Thank you, Raj. Thank you for this. You hold such lovely space, and it's coachy, it's insightful. I appreciate it. And yeah, I appreciate you.  

Raj Anderson: Thank you, John. I appreciate you, I'm grateful for you. I'm grateful for our listeners. Please send us your questions and we'll look forward to seeing you next time. 

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