Archive | June, 2015

How ethical mentoring can make a difference

26 Jun

It seems that every day, there is another story of organizations, which were once respected, betraying the trust of their stakeholders. The scenes at Fifa (pronounced Thiefa), when staff applauded the boss, who had presided over years of corrupt practice, may have seemed inexplicable, but they demonstrate just how easily immoral and illegal practice can become such a part of the culture that people rationalise it as normal and acceptable. Our desire to think well of ourselves leads us to create narratives that justify the otherwise indefensible. If someone challenges those narratives, we protect our sense of self-worthiness by positioning them as immoral, for undermining some greater good, to which we have aligned our own immoral actions. So, in the case of Fifa, those who exposed corruption were seen as attacking the “good work” of supporting football in very poor countries.

Our individual and collective inability to challenge the morality of our actions and our inbuilt defensiveness, when someone else challenges them, make the task of shifting a corrupt culture very difficult. Getting everyone to sign a pledge of better behaviour in the future doesn’t have much effect on underlying assumptions – the narrative of justification remains in the background and continues to exert a more subtle influence. Over time, without constant vigilance and ethical role models, unethical behaviour re-asserts itself.

Changing the narrative can only happen through dialogue. Not just any dialogue, but dialogue that promotes both introspection – understanding our own core values and how we try to live them – and an understanding and appreciation of wider and different perspectives. Connecting with our own values reinforces our ability to self-police against unethical behaviour. Connecting with wider perspectives helps us question and break free from unethical assumptions that we have absorbed from the shared narrative of our immediate working environment.

This kind of dialogue doesn’t happen in one-off workshops. It requires a learning context – one where we are open to re-evaluation of our internal and external worlds and how we relate to them. Hence the emerging role of “ethical mentor”. Ethical mentors come equipped with skills to help people have the learning conversations about difficult issues, along with an understanding of the psychology of ethicality – how we make choices in line with our values. They also typically have an immense store of personal wisdom.

The role of ethical mentors is to fourfold. Firstly, they are the first line of defence against the corporate reputation damage of whistleblowing. Genuine whistleblowers typically take their concerns public because they do not feel there are being listened to. An ethical mentor provides an empathetic ear and a resource, through which people can explore a range of options of how to be heard. Typically, the mentor also has a direct link to an organization’s leadership, who would otherwise often be unaware of unethical behaviour further down the organization. The mentor can help a whistleblower think through how best to present their concerns, how to gather evidence, where relevant.

Some organizations, especially in the health and social care sectors, are experiencing a different kind of whistleblower – people, who misuse the whistleblowing structures to deflect attention from their own dishonest or incompetent behaviour, or to take revenge for being found out. By and large, these people avoid the ethical mentor, but doing so greatly reduces their credibility.

The second role of an ethical mentor is to support anyone in the organization, who has an ethical dilemma and needs help in thinking through how to manage it. The process, at its simplest, involves helping them:

  • Articulate the problem
  • Consider the context
  • Consider the implications
  • What other opinions/ perspectives may be relevant?
  • Balance the arguments
  • Make a final check

The third role of an ethical mentor is to help people develop ethical resilience – the ability to recognise ethical dilemmas, become more ethically aware and manage ethical issues in line with their own personal values and the values of their organisation. This tends to be a longer-term learning process than the first two roles.

Fourthly, the mentor acts as a corporate conscience. Their exposure to ethical issues at various levels within the organization and their reflection on these experiences is an invaluable window on the ethical narratives of the organisation. They are able to identify patterns of thinking and behaviour that increase ethical risk and bring these patterns to the attention of the organization’s leadership, so that remedial action can be taken before reputational catastrophe occurs.

There are still only a handful of organizations, which have formal ethical mentors in place – Barclays, Standard Chartered, Diageo and the UK National Health Service among them – and these are still learning how best to develop ethical mentors. If we are to make a significant difference to corporate morality, however, ethical mentors have a major role to play.

© David Clutterbuck, 2015

Supervising team coaches

12 Jun

Coaches’ attitudes towards supervision vary widely, not least in reflection of what they see as the point or purpose of supervision. One position is that supervision is about helping new coaches embed and expand the competences they have learned in their initial training – after which it becomes an optional cost. The opposite position is that supervision is about supporting coaches throughout their careers, as they take on more complex and demanding assignments. It’s not surprising that the most mature, most capable coaches we observe in assessment centres regard coaching as an integral and essential part of their continued development – not a cost, but an opportunity.

The issue of supervising team coaches is now firmly on the agenda of researchers and some of the more forward-thinking professional bodies. Across the world, coaches trained in one-to-one interventions have morphed into team coaches, often with little or no additional or special training for the role. In my workshops and interviews with these coaches, I frequently find that “team coaches”:

  • Do not distinguish between coaching individual members of the same team and coaching the team collectively
  • Have little appreciation of the complexity of team dynamics
  • Often inadvertently create dependency in a way they would not dream of doing in one-to-one situations
  • Confuse sorting out a specific team issue (which may be more aligned to consultancy or facilitation) with enabling the team to develop its capacity to grow (i.e. to self-coach).

The need for specialist team coach supervision is evident. However, there are relatively few coach supervisors, who have the relevant experience and/or qualifications to work in this more complex environment. (I am making the assumption here that a supervisor should by and large have a deep knowledge of the relevant discipline.) So we have a real and present potential that the quality of team coaching may not be sufficient to address the needs of team coaches.

We also don’t have a clear theory or substantial body of knowledge about what good team coach supervision looks like. (Not surprising, really, given that the literature on team coaching itself isn’t very extensive – yet.) A good starting point is therefore to build upon and extend existing approaches within one-to-one supervision.

Peter Hawkins’ seven-eyed model is arguably the best-known model of coaching supervision, at least in Europe and the non-US world. It offers a multi-dimensional view of the coaching assignment and relationships – including the relationship between the coach and the supervisor – that supports both depth and breadth in the supervisory dialogue.

The broad approach can also be used to supervise team coaches. However, because team coaching is significantly more complex and demanding than one-to-one coaching, supervising team coaching involves at least three additional perspectives (or “eyes”). Moreover, each of the original perspectives may have additional facets, which may need to be taken into account.

The table below shows an adaptation of Hawkins’ model, with these three dimensions added (in red), along with some comments on factors that the team coach supervisor may need to take into account.

The “eye” Some team coaching issues
1) The client system Each member of the team may have his or her own agenda, which may or may not be revealed to other members. The team leader, in particular, may be under pressures from above, which they do not want to burden the team with. So there are multiple individual client systems to take into account. Whereas in one to one coaching, the coach can gain insights into the client system by virtue of the intimacy of the conversation and the relationship, it is much more difficult (and time consuming) to do so in a team context.
1a) The team’s internal systems Team performance depends to a significant extent on how the members interact. Communication processes, task processes and relationships all have an impact. Informal systems and processes may be more important than formal.
2) The intervention Within a one-to-one conversation, the potential to notice what is happening with the client is relatively high. In team coaching, an intervention may “land” with some team members and not with others. The coach will focus mainly on the collective dynamics and may only notice individual reactions by their impact on the group, or when a member withdraws from the conversation. Balancing attentiveness to the team and to the individuals within it is therefore a core skill for a team coach.

Contracting – important in all coaching – becomes critical in team coaching, particularly in terms of:

·      establishing expectations (for example, do the team and the leader share the same expectations and hopes for team coaching?)

·      re-contracting – reacting to what is happening in the team to make immediate readjustments to what is happening

·      ensuring that the team retains responsibility for everything (including internal conflict in the moment)

3) The relationship between the team and the coach In one-to-one coaching, clients often place the blame for problems on their boss, or on colleagues. In a team coaching context, process failures (or process successes, where the team is forced to see itself in a way it does not want to confront) often result in the team directing the blame towards the coach. For example, rather than face up to internal conflict, the team may use the coach as a convenient scapegoat. Inexperienced team coaches can feel overwhelmed by this; more experienced ones know how to use this to help the team explore its internal dynamics.
3a) The relationship between individual team members and the coach There are multiple, often contradictory relationships between individual team members and the team coach. Managing issues, such as confidentiality, can be problematic.
3b) The relationship between the leader and the coach Having a special relationship with the team leader can undermine the team coaching process; yet it’s important to have their support.
4) The team coach’s processes In the relatively comfort of a one-to-one conversation, many coaches still have some level of performance anxiety. In the presence of a team, this can be multiplied many times over.

It’s also more difficult for a team coach to reflect during the coaching conversation. In the pauses in one-to-one coaching, the coach has time to consider, with only part of their attention directed to observing the client. In team coaching, the coach has many more people to observe. This is ne of the reasons why team coaching is typically so tiring and why supervision also tends to address issues of personal resilience.

5) The relationship between the supervisor and the team coach In this “eye”, there is little to distinguish between one-to-one and team coaching. The basic functions of normative, formative and restorative seem to be pretty much the same.
6) The supervisor’s processes Supervision involves, at least to some extent, a sense of “being in the room” with the coach as they describe their intervention. In a team coaching context, there is typically so much going on in the session that the coach is recalling, that it can be much harder for the supervisor to sense what is going on. The issue is compounded by the fact that team coaching sessions are typically longer than one-to-one sessions.
7) The wider context In team coaching, the wider context is often wider. Issues of overlapping systems, corporate culture and – especially for senior leadership teams – societal impact may all be present. We are frequently dealing with a level of complexity that the human mind is not equipped to deal with. The supervisor helps the coach help the team to clarify issues at the micro and macro levels, but the systems in between are often too complex and too dynamic to comprehend. Supervision in team coaching is often about assisting the coach in coming to terms with not knowing and not being able to exercise control – as is also, of course, the case for the team, although the members may find this difficult to endorse.

The analysis in this table is a first pass at collating experiences from team coaches and a limited number of team coach supervisors. In creating it, I have become even more conscious of how much more research and analysis is needed. The good news is that the structure of the seven (or ten!) eyes remains relevant and practical.


© David Clutterbuck, 2015

Restorative role of a supervisor

12 Jun

The word restorative implies “putting back” or “regaining”. An effective supervisor helps you to restore what you need to be a fully functioning coach (which may not be that different from what you need to be a fully functioning individual, although the supervisor is not expected to be a counsellor or therapist). Coaching other people through difficult issues can be exhilarating, when we can see the immediate impacts; but it can also be deflating, when the client doesn’t seem to be making the progress we and/or their sponsor thinks they should.

Restorative functions in coaching can be seen in terms of the matrix below, developed by one of us (David) in response to conversations with coaches about how they restore their energy and the factors that influence their readiness for coaching. A good supervisor should be capable of offering support in all these areas. To explain the two dimensions:

Perspectives – the supervisor uses their objectivity and their own experience/ knowledge to help the coach step back and gain a more balanced view of themselves and their practice. It’s all too easy to have feelings of self-doubt, or to make assumptions about the client and their world. A “helicopter” perspective acknowledges both what is happening on the ground and the bigger picture

Acceptance is about the coach’s potential to be, while energy is about potential to do. The effective supervisor helps the coach let go of unhelpful beliefs, assumptions and emotions; and to renew his or her stores of energy.

Restorative functions of an effective supervisor

Screen Shot 2015-06-12 at 14.11.54

The functions in the matrix are drawn from our own experiences as supervisors and as coaches being supervised, as well as from the reflections of coaches, who have contributed to our research.

Self-awareness: To restore our fitness to coach, we need to understand what emotions and assumptions may be inhibiting us. Exploring how we feel about a client relationship, for example, gives us the choice to change how we feel

Identity: Especially at the early stages as a coach, people often suffer from an identity crisis. “Who am I as a coach?” can quickly become “Who am I as a person?”. Refocusing on values and how you contribute to the world around you creates the opportunity to be more accepting of who you are and – perhaps more important – who you are becoming.

Patience: Early stage coaches also are often in a hurry to acquire experience and track record, at the expense of reflecting deeply on the what they have experienced so far. Supervision can gently restore the balance, offering calm space to refocus on being rather than doing.

Faith in human nature: Most people come to the role of coach with a generally positive view of human nature, but this can be undermined by the experiences of their clients at the hands of manipulative bosses (or by clients, who try to manipulate the coach to their own ends). Effective supervisors have had their own faith in humanity tested many times and are able to help the coach put the behaviours of a few people into perspective.

Letting go of responsibility: Of course, coaches have responsibility towards clients and their sponsors, plus of course general responsibilities towards society and the coaching profession. Once again, a balance is important. Coaches often assume far too much responsibility for what the client does (or doesn’t do) as a result of coaching conversations. They feel guilty or inadequate, if the client doesn’t emerge from a session with a clear solution, or if the intended results of coaching don’t happen. In doing so, they are in effect usurping the client’s responsibilities for their own actions. Once again, the supervisor’s restorative role is about helping the coach work out what a reasonable balance of responsibility is.

Managing endings: Coaches get lots of training in how to start an assignment and how to hold a coaching conversation. One of the things they don’t usually get is training in how to deal with disengagement from the client. The closer and more intimate the relationship with the client has been, the harder to just walk away. Yet the coach must avoid creating dependency by prolonging the assignment. As they become more mature, coaches also bring to supervision issues of moving on within their business arrangements, as they outgrow commercial relationships, which seemed right before.

Self-belief: When things don’t work out as the coach feels they should have, the effective supervisor helps shift focus from self-blame to learning from experience. They help the coach remember and appreciate what they are like at their best and reflect upon how to make their norm more like their best.

Resilience: Coaches need coping strategies to back up after a knock-down. The supervisor provides both empathy and practical support in developing and applying such strategies.

Laughter: The ability of laughter to restore energy has been demonstrated in numerous clinical studies. (Freud analysed the mechanisms and impact of laughter 100 years ago!) Good supervision helps the coach to see the absurdity in complex situations (so putting them in perspective) and to laugh at themselves.

Sense of purpose: Most coaches go through periods of questioning why they are coaches. Supervision helps reconnect with your core values and aspirations – which are a key resource for recharging our internal batteries and rediscovering our enthusiasm.

Opportunities for personal growth: Having a sense of becoming better and better as a coach is an important self-motivator, but we are not always conscious of the progress we are making. Supervision helps us see how we are developing and identifies learning opportunities that align with our sense of purpose.

Opportunities for business growth: The skills of being a great coach and running a great business don’t necessarily go together. Again, effective supervision brings perspective and helps coaches achieve a balance of attention between their personal authenticity and the needs of their business.

© David Clutterbuck, 2015

Coping with blame

8 Jun

Coaching and mentoring conversations frequently run into the brick wall of blame, most often in one of two common forms: self-blame (assuming responsibility for one’s own or other people’s misfortunes) or other-blame (protecting one’s own self-image and reputation by blaming others). Both forms block the client’s ability to be authentic and to make progress.

The limited research on blame offers some insights into what happens. Politicians, it seems “are motivated primarily by the desire to avoid blame for unpopular actions rather than by seeking to claim credit for popular ones. This results from voters’ ‘negativity bias’: their tendency to be more sensitive to real or potential losses than they are to gains. Incentives to avoid blame lead politicians to adopt a distinctive set of political strategies, including agenda limitation, scapegoating, ‘passing the buck’ and defection (‘jumping on the bandwagon’) that are different than those they would follow if they were primarily interested in pursuing good policy or maximizing credit-claiming opportunities.”

Blame arises from an instinctive need to attribute causation to a negative event – with the underlying assumption that assigning culpability will reduce our anxiety. Frequently, this means shifting causation from ourselves to another identifiable source. It is, in essence, about creating some comforting certainty amidst the discomfort of a negative event that causes strong negative emotions. (These may include disgust, fear, despair and so on.) Blame is also closely associated to the way we make moral judgements. So, for example, Victorian society created a distinction between deserving and undeserving poor, not recognizing – or more accurately, not choosing to recognise — that behaviours that made people “underserving” (such as alcohol addiction or prostitution) were often caused by poverty, rather than vice versa. Culpability implies deliberate choices on the part of the person blamed (negligence being the choice to ignore something). Yet few situations are that clear cut and it is hard to distinguish between the influence of choices of individuals or groups and the systems that they are a part of.

As a coach or mentor, we can help the client step back from this instinctive response and take a more rational, more constructive perspective on events and causation. The clues to self-blame and other-blame are often quite obvious. For example:
• The language used – “I” versus “they”; “it’s not my fault”
• Body posture – submissive or defiant (looking down versus staring ahead)
• Extreme positions – “They always”, “I never”
• Seeing the situation only from their own perspective.

To bring the conversation into a more rational space, from which more positive and more helpful emotions can arise, the coach or mentor can ask the client to consider what has happened from a systems perspective. The basic starting question is often: “What else is happening here that we might want to take note of?” The antidote to blame is curiosity.

Exploring the system can be undertaken in a variety of ways, but one of the simplest involves:
• Defining who and what is involved. The client may perceive only themselves and the immediate protagonists, but a systems perspective identifies other players, who may exert an influence on how each party behaves. Sometimes the players are not people at all, but cultures and processes.
• Exploring the assumptions, expectations and aspirations of each of the players – where they align, clash and are tangential
• What happens within this system that made the negative event more or less likely to occur?
• Based on this understanding, to what extent was the negative event an outcome of an action (or inaction) by one party, or an outcome of the system?
• How does this change our perception of what happened and/or where blame lies?
• What happens if we replace the desire to assign blame with the desire to learn?
• What responsibilities would it be helpful for you and other parties in the system to assume, to prevent future negative events?
• Can you now let go of the need to blame?

Most people, even those who are naturally more judgemental than others, can emerge from this process with a clearer sense of their personal responsibilities and with greatly reduced self-defensiveness.

© David Clutterbuck, 2015