Note: This article is written mainly for third or fourth year Tembusu students, but may be of interest to anyone who is curious about the sorts of issues addressed in coaching and how it works. The article is written as a semi-fictional group interview with the three coaches Tembusu is engaging this semester, based on frequently asked questions and often-heard comments. ‘Coaching’ in this article refers to ‘Co-Active Coaching’, which is the approach in which the coaches speaking here are trained.
Interviewer: Why would someone go for coaching? Here are the things I can think of: they have a dilemma or issue they don’t know how to solve. They can’t motivate themselves to get things done. Or maybe they have a really big goal in life they are working towards.
Catelijne: Yes, these are definitely among the reasons people go for coaching. They may feel stuck and want to get moving again. They may want to stop procrastinating on things that are important to them. Or they may have a dream or goal and want to do everything in their power to reach it. As coaches, our starting point is to take these wishes seriously. We get very curious about how and why these things are significant in our coachees’ lives. From there, we collaborate with our coachees on developing strategies for moving forward.
May: Another reason someone could look for coaching is that they’ve reached a fork in the road. Should I take this job or hold out for something else? Go further in the line of work I am in, or change? Stay in Singapore or move overseas? It could be a decision between clearly-defined options, or a more general question of ‘what’s next for me?’ Another topic I often see is: ‘How do I balance lots of different things that are important to me?’. And another one: ‘I know I am on the right track, how do I get the energy and the courage to keep going?’
Catelijne: That last one in particular resonates with me, hahaha. All of these and more are suitable agendas to bring to coaching. I think it’s important to push back against the idea that people who go for coaching either need ‘fixing’ or are necessarily super ambitious. People who go for coaching are just people who want to grow.
Interviewer: What is the difference between coaching and mentoring?
May: It depends on the type of coaching and the type of mentoring we’re talking about. But if I may generalize: the power of mentoring often lies in getting valuable advice based on the similarities between your situation and your mentor’s life and work experience. The power of coaching lies in the way the coach provides a space to dream, to hear your own answers to important questions, to make choices, to hold yourself accountable… As coaches we don’t know what you should do, what is right for you. So we seldom give advice, but we use a variety of tools and techniques to support you in finding your own way.
Catelijne: Advice-giving is such an ingrained way for people of different ages, or different ‘amounts’ of life or work experience, to interact. To a degree that makes sense. But in coaching we don’t have that hierarchy. We build the relationship with our coachee on an equal footing. That asks for specific skills and ways of working from us, and it also asks for very active participation from the coachee.
Ian: It definitely takes courage to start working with a coach. Something people think that’s because we will push you hard, or SCREAM at you. That is not going to happen. We are going to affirm you and help you see your own power and your choices. It still takes courage, though… because you are opening up to someone about your dreams and what you are hoping life can be. It’s quite typical for adults to hide these things, because they want to avoid getting disappointed… I myself became a coach because I love seeing the courage of people taking a stand for themselves. It’s so amazing when they stop compromising or shrugging their shoulders saying ‘yeah this is just how life is, it’s always going to be this way’, and actually take small (or BIG) steps to owning and crafting life as they truly want it to be.
Interviewer: Say more about how that ‘courage of being coached’ to which you just referred, relates to you personally? You have all been coached by others, right?
Ian: For me, it’s the forming and growing of the coaching relationship with my coach that is the most fun part. Through that, I get to grow my own understanding of myself as well as the situation(s) that I am looking to change or transform. I look back to one of the first coaches I hired professionally – he helped me articulate my core values and strengths and to understand some of my self-limiting beliefs and thought constructs. While it took a HUGE amount of personal courage to take a real look at myself, it totally blew my mind and shifted my perspective on work, family, and life (hint: I realized I really could have it all, and it depends what I really wanted to choose)…
May: I do have a coach who coaches me. We work on a variety of things together, and learning to be courageous, in many dimensions, is one of them. And, full disclosure here…. opening up to others – let alone being coached! – beyond the surface stuff does not come naturally to me. I grew up in a loving family, but we didn’t talk about deeper “stuff” and were told to just “Get on with it!” Coaching has helped me clarify what matters most to me, which helps me make choices such as where to invest my energy and time and which challenges to pursue. This clarity and sense of purpose has also made it easier for me to speak up when I know something isn’t right for me.
Catelijne: I have just hired a new co-active coach for myself. This is the sixth coach I’ve worked with, intermittently, in a period of ten years’ time, so it’s fair to say that I really see the value in it. I also like changing coach from time to time because everyone has different strengths. To your question: it’s always a leap of faith. The scariest parts for me are being fully honest about my aspirations and inner motivations, and trusting that my coach will truly champion me. Right now, I am working on hownot to back down from the dual career I wanted for myself, as a coach and an academic who also just moved to a new country. It’s the question of ‘how do I translate this dream into reality?’ ‘How do I liveit? That includes dealing with recurrent moments of overwhelm and self-doubt. I expect my coach to be wildly curious about what the ‘dream’ consists of and how it evolves. And also that she’ll be reflecting my values and strengths back to me, making it easier for me keep overwhelm and self-doubt in perspective and not let it paralyze me.
Interviewer: If you had to pinpoint what it is that makes coaching so effective, what would that be?
May: It’s the combination of reflection and action. These really work together as a pair. One without the other isn’t nearly as powerful. Some people love to have deep conversations and get valuable insights about themselves from these conversations, but the insights remain just thoughts in their heads. Other people love to create action plans, because for them ‘doing things’ equals progress. But those action plans often start to feel rigid or pointless as time goes by. In coaching, we aim for a virtuous cycle between both, always steering the coachee towards “deepening the learning” and “forwarding the action” – to use a key phrase from co-active coaching. All the best coaching approaches create this pairing, because that’s how growth and change work.
Interviewer: Last question: say I am an interested senior, what kind of commitment do you need from me? How would this work in practice?
Ian: The ‘coaching programme’ itself consists of four one-hour sessions with your own individual coach, spread out over the semester. In practice, that means these are spaced 2-3 weeks apart. What you need to bring is… a genuine wish to grow in some area(s) of your life. And know that coaching is not a spectator sport: it’s up to you to set the agenda for what you want coaching on, and it’s up to you to follow through on the action points and reflection questions you and your coach design together.
May: Be prepared to lean in to the experience and maybe even “play” a little. I also want to name a few things that are not required. You do not need to bring a ‘big’ issue… and who decides what’s ‘big’ or ‘small’ anyway…? You also do not need to bare your soul to your coach. Full disclosure is not an objective in coaching, and your coach will be completely respectful of where you don’t want to go. So not only do you have the steering wheel on this, you also have the breaks. And finally: you do not need to set aside a big amount of ‘extra’ time. Apart from the four sessions with your coach, the time commitment is completely adaptable to what works for you.
Catelijne: This is a tailored programme – that is the point of one-to-one coaching. Here are two possible next steps for those who are interested. One: come to our intro session during which you can see us in action, ask questions, and explore possible coaching topics in a group setting. [This will take place on Wednesday 15 August at 8.30pm at The Atlas]. Two, if you prefer to skip the intro session: sign up for a sample session through the survey link that will be sent out to everyone. The sample session is the gateway into the four sessions – it allows you to try before deciding, and also allows both you and your prospective coach to see if there is a fit between the two of you. If you have any queries about the programme, the contact person at Tembusu College to approach is Dr Kelvin Pang.
About the coaches
Dr Catelijne Coopmans worked at Tembusu College from 2011 until January of this year. She was one of the founding fellows as well as the first residential fellow of Gaja House – and, for many years, the College’s Director of Studies. Catelijne now lives in Girona, Spain, where she works from her home (via the internet) as a coach for academics and other wonderful people in several Asian and European countries. She is also a part-time Research Fellow at the Department of Thematic Studies, University of Linköping, Sweden.
May McAllister has been affiliated with Tembusu College since January 2015, first as part of the team developing the Third Year Experience group workshops and later as a fellow. She describes her career as “anything but linear”: change management, banking, teaching, coaching, and even “back to school” for a Master degree from INSEAD in Coaching and Counselling for Change. She is an executive coach working with a range of organizations (corporations, nonprofits and civil service), as well as private clients around the world.
Ian Goh is a professional coach who supports his clients in the space of resilience and personal leadership. He is inspired by the strength of the human spirit (and the human condition) and has coached individuals across different ages, life stages, and career paths. Motivated and driven to inspire a better world for all of us, one dream and one conversation at a time, he is also an organization development practitioner, which entails supporting continuous growth and evoking leadership in teams in the non-profit and public sector.
Header image: “Footsteps” by penguincakes, 2009 (Creative Commons license)
Featured image: “Footsteps” by i *want* magic, 2008 (Creative Commons license)