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‘Where were all the coaches when the banks went down?’ Part 3: Challenge

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In the next article of his FACTS coaching model series, John Blakey looks at 'C' for 'Challenge'.

Topics such as feedback, accountability, challenge, tension and systems thinking are all relevant to the role of a coach in delivering great 'bottom line' results - particularly in an economic environment where buyers of executive coaching are asking awkward questions like 'Where were all the coaches when the banks went down?'. At 121partners, we have coined the acronym 'FACTS' to summarise these 'tough love' skills and apply them to support organisations where the emphasis is now on using coaching to support 'organisational needs' rather than 'individual wants'. In this third article, we will focus upon 'C' for challenge.
In the FACTS approach, feedback and accountability can both be challenging behaviours but one is focussed upon learning from the past and the other is focussed upon delivering in the present - neither is solely future-focussed. The distinctive nature of the 'C' in FACTS is that it stands for challenging the coachee in terms of their future performance and potential.

A thought experiment

Let's start with a quick 'thought experiment' - as a coach can you imagine saying to your coachee "That's not good enough. I think you can do better than that and I am here to help you stretch your potential in this area". If not, why not? Could you imagine yourself saying "Here is your 360 feedback report. It shows that, in the eyes of others, you are a star. Given this feedback, I am wondering if you have a bigger contribution to make and what might be holding you back from doing this?" If not, why not?

Photo of JOHN BLAKEY"It is worthwhile looking at what can be learnt from sports coaching. where a challenge is a more accepted means of motivating and inspiring top performers to fulfil their potential."

Does holding back from strong challenges of this type serve your coachee's development? Or are your reasons due to your own limited vision for the coachee, your fear of their potential and maybe your fear of your own potential to be a transformative coach?

In the 'good times', even if a coach had belief in the coachee's greatness, maybe they would have been tempted to dilute their challenges or to accept the coachee's own limiting belief in themselves. If the coachee was happy with themselves, and the organisation was happy too, then why bother 'rocking the boat' by asking this talented individual to stretch even further, to get out of their comfort zone and become the true 'star' that they could be? Maybe acceptance replaced effective challenge whereas, in difficult times, we all have more reason to dig deeper and unlock the potential which has been left untapped during the complacency of the 'good times'.
In order to learn more about putting challenge into practice it is worthwhile looking at what can be learnt from sports coaching. In sports coaching, challenge is a more accepted means of motivating and inspiring top performers to fulfil their potential. 121partners co-founder, Bill Barry, an Olympic medallist himself, has coached Alan Campbell from anonymity to becoming a world class rower. This quote neatly summarises the start of their coaching relationship:-
"Alan Campbell's story is quite remarkable. Little more than a novice sculler when he first met his coach, Bill Barry, six years ago, he confidently declared that his ultimate goal was to win Olympic gold. Some would have laughed but Barry recognised a spark of something exceptional in Campbell and decided to take him at his word." (Boardroom Magazine, ‘Going for Gold’, September/October 2008.)
In August 2009, Alan Campbell won the silver medal at the rowing world championships in Poland, breaking the current world record in the process. He is one of the UK’s top prospects for a gold medal at London 2012.
Bill and Alan have a unique partnership as coach and athlete and their story is an inspiring example of the total belief of a coach in an athlete's potential and how such a belief can act as an empowering challenge to pursue the dream goal. Do you secretly 'laugh' at your coachees when they describe their own version of the 'Olympic gold medal' or do you take them at their word and begin the journey in partnership and with conviction?
In their work together, what enables Bill to challenge Alan effectively is partly that Alan respects Bill's own achievements and knows that Bill is not asking him to do something that he has not done himself. He is credible. Also, Alan has worked with Bill over many years and in this time has learnt to trust Bill's intentions. In the context of such a well established relationship, Bill can 'push' Alan harder than would be the case if they had just met or if Bill had sent mixed messages about whether he really had Alan's best interests at heart.
Alan describes this impact of Bill's challenges as like "having an extra person in the boat with me when I am racing" - it motivates him alongside his own self-motivation and allows him to deal with the 'highs and lows' of winning and losing in this most competitive of sports.

Question yourself

Think of the example of the coaching partnership between Bill Barry and Alan Campbell. Ask yourself the following questions:
  • Do I fulfil this role in my coachees' business lives?
  • Do I challenge them based on an unconditional belief in their potential?
  • Have I earnt the trust and credibility 'in their world' for my challenges to be respected?
If you can answer 'yes' to all these questions then your challenge is a unique gift to your coachees, it could be their equivalent of 'the extra man in the boat' and', lets face FACTS, we could all do with one of these as we brace these challenging times!
For more background on the philosophy of the FACTS approach and its link to the question 'Where all the coaches when the banks went down?' read the other articles in the series: Part 1: 'F' for 'Feedback' and Part 2: 'A' for 'Accountability'.

This article contains extracts from John Blakey and Ian Day's recently published book 'Where were all the coaches when the banks went down?' which is available to order via www.121partners.com. John can be contacted via [email protected].

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