New season ahead, and I feel it timely to discuss the epitome of the Motherhood experience: the complex -and yet indispensable- Art of Coaching!
Having just experienced (or should I say…survived!) our first vacation as a Family of three, I feel physically exhausted and, at the same time, emotionally replenished. Our Family has crafted a bunch of awesome new memories, and experienced many “firsts”: our first swim together, our son’s first-time sleeping outside the house, our first long-distance journey…
We didn’t get the amounts of rest we used to; we didn’t even get to sleep as much as we would have wanted. Plus, I have managed set a new personal record on how many times I had to do laundry in 10 days (in case you are wondering: it was 11 times!) but, in retrospect, all this was worth it: I (almost) can’t wait to do it all over again next year knowing that the summer break is not about resting anymore: it’s about making precious memories!
I hadn’t realized how mentally strong and agile Motherhood had made me, until I found myself faced with incessant decision making in unknown territory. A new place, far away from anything and anyone we knew, outside our comfort zone, and about 10 degrees hotter than we are used to, is a bold step forward! But two core abilities in our family armory got me feeling confident I could pull through no matter what: Troubleshooting and…Coaching!
Before you start picturing basketball teams or people wearing baseball hats, here’s some much-needed context on what Coaching is (and is not).
Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance. It’s helping them to learn, rather than teaching them.
Nicely put, no? Kudos to (the late) Sir John Whitmore who dedicated his professional practice (and an entire book) on what Coaching is, and how it can support people’s growth. He even created a model systematizing the coaching experience, called GROW. (In case you feel like checking it out, his iconic book is titled Coaching for Performance). Brilliant chap: he understood what made people tick, and put it in a way so that corporations would listen. Anyhow…
Given the above definition, let’s briefly review what Coaching is not:
- Managing. You don’t get to manage anything and anyone. You are there to facilitate a process where a safe space for growth and development is co-created by those taking part in it. Let go of any inclination to control stuff. (Speaking from experience here!)
- Mentoring. You don’t get to play Ms Smartie Pants or promote your expertise in any way. Although experience surely plays a big role in how you handle a Coaching relationship, discretion is advised: you aren’t there to criticize or offer tips unless your input is bluntly requested. And, even then, you are strongly advised to be extremely mindful about offering any of that jazz!
- Consulting. One thing I love to mock about the consulting profession is how those people manage to get paid to offer their best advice, while at the same time distance themselves from any responsibility deriving from actually following that advice. In Coaching there is no such Carte Blanche. Everyone involved shares the mutual responsibility of facilitating growth, and pitfalls are everyone’s (bloody) business.
- A Project. It’s more of a Process, really. A living-breathing organism. Sure, a Coaching intervention could be designed around a finite duration (measured in number of “sessions”, say 6-10), but the relationship forged among those who take part is an ongoing one. And it goes beyond any formal agenda or timeline.
- Therapy. It doesn’t focus on the past or those (potentially wicked) reasons that got you here. It does focus on what will get you where you want to go, though: Solutions over Nostalgia! Its forward-thinking notion is what makes Coaching so damn cool!
- Teaching. Sir John clearly stated this on his definition, but -just to make sure it’s crystal clear- you don’t get to instruct anyone to do anything. Bid farewell to any notion of control over the process or the environment in which people learn and grow. If you are controlling it, you are stalling it!
Now that we have established what Coaching is and is not, some practical tips on how you could introduce Coaching into life as a Mom:
- Ask your kid stuff. Like all-the-time. Why did you do A? How do you plan to work around B? What is your motivation for trying out C? Who would you trust to help you with D? If it doesn’t end with a question-mark, it’s an Opinion and, like it or not, opinions are counter-productive little buggers delaying your kid’s growth. (More about that in a bit.)
- Listen to them. Actively! Narrate if it suits the occasion. Repeat parts of the response you get from your kid. Returning a message back to the sender could help them get a better grip of how they actually sound. And, in some cases, all you need to realize stuff about your current state of mind is to have your own words (or actions) returned to you on a different tone! “So, let me get this straight: you are crying your heart out for the past 15 minutes because I asked you to put your panties on and not run naked around the neighborhood?”
- Be Intuitive. Aim at generating data. Notice as many details as possible. Their body language. Their tone of voice. What is actually happening there, and what is missing. How your kid feels. How you feel! The truth is out there, Skully. You just need to be present and consistently on the lookout! That strong hunch you have that your toddler is feeling uncomfortable when all those visiting chaps go about demanding hugs? That’s precious data you shouldn’t ignore. Instead, you should focus your coaching around the theme of healthy boundaries-setting, and start discussing how your kid can effectively communicate them.
- Offer and Receive Feedback. Notice how I didn’t mention Opinions here either? It’s because Feedback comes from critically assessing gathered information, whereas Opinions are beliefs based on one’s moral compass. Opinions shift and (hopefully) become more sophisticated as you grow, but are mostly of absolute nature and generally serve to narrow your perception field; that’s why I called them counter-productive earlier. Feedback, on the other hand, has less to do with who you are, and more to do with how you perceive what’s going on around you in the here and now. Yes, it is affected by the degree of bias you allow into your data gathering attempts, but practice makes perfect. The more you go looking for Feedback over Opinions, the better you will become at generating useful information you could act upon. Another fascinating fact about Feedback is that it can be non-verbal too! Here’s an example: Acknowledging your toddler’s tantrums as requests for support, is receiving Feedback. Thinking that a protesting toddler is a “spoiled brat” is an Opinion. And a practical trick around this (annoying) conundrum: if the first word that comes to your mind when assessing a complex situation is an adjective (e.g. spoiled), it’s most likely an Opinion meant for you to walk by. If you can describe what’s going on with a noun or a verb (e.g. request for support), you are in the Feedback zone, so go you!
All this sounds too much to process? Complex and hard to grasp? What if I told you that you are already practicing most of these on a daily basis?
Both you and your Child are walking down the Growth Road together, which it’s not necessarily paved with rose pedals. As reproductive psychiatrist Alexandra Sacks put it in her lovely TED talk last year on the transition to Motherhood, “when a Baby is born, so is a Mother”. It’s a phase that is both mentally and emotionally challenging. Ms Sacks calls it “Matrescence”, which is insightful and sounds a lot like Adolescence – a fun Analogy, no?
The actual transition is no joke, though. It might break you, but it will definitely build a more resilient (both of) you as you go along! A rich array of competences, Coaching included, can help lift some of the stress that comes with the experience of life as a Mother. But who has time for Coaching seminars when you are still trying to adapt to your new super time-consuming role. Right?
Wrong! Perhaps I run the risk of over-simplifying things here. I often do that when I passionately advocating for an idea I believe in. So, a disclaimer: mind you, that Coaching is not a practice meant to be taken lightly. And it cannot be exhausted within the course of a few tips either. It’s, actually, a pretty complex ability. That’s why some go as far as call it an Art. But, as I write all this down, I remain convinced (by my own experience and by observing the practice of other Moms around me) that Mothers are inherently good at Coaching and, with some context and a bit of mindful practice, they can thrive in both the Family and Work setup. But, hey, I’m just a Mom, so don’t take my word for it.
Renowned executive coach and psychotherapist Vassilis Antonas, author of Coaching for Impact, gets it too! In his (must-read) book we find that, while “kids can do as they please, and for the most part exercise their right to be as resistant, stubborn, argumentative and uncooperative as they wish”, Moms “have a natural capacity of being empathetic Coaches with an advantage in forming strong, secure bonds with their kid and this facilitates very much the creation of rapport” (with rapport defined as “an authentic quality relation with their kids, that enables to challenge and support them in equal measure”).
On p.52, our friend V is explicit: “Mothers process the fundamental Coaching skills of Listening, Generating Data and Giving/Receiving of Feedback”. And by “Listening” he means “the appropriate use of eye contact, paraphrasing and summarizing, asking for clarifications, displaying reflective patience, and testing assumptions.” So, there you have it: a testimonial from an actual field expert in Coaching acknowledging how you, Mom, are, indeed, a Coaching natural!
So, dear Momma, next time you feel challenged by the depth and breadth of your role, think of Coaching as your best bet to move forward. An Art you are inherently great at, even if you don’t know that what you are already practicing has a name (and is actually considered a top-notch corporate competence that organizations pay hefty amounts of cash to instill in their Leadership teams).
As for you, my dear Recruiter or Hiring Manager with a Servant Leadership role to fill, do I really need to elaborate further on why the Mom in your candidate list is, hands-down, the best possible choice for you to make?
Coaching like a Mom? You got this!