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Ordinary People Taking Action
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Lately I have been asking my coaching clients this question: how do you show up? For those who aren’t sure, here’s a great way to visualize it. Imagine a line, which is a continuum between you showing up as your best self and you showing up as the opposite of your best. Think about various times throughout the day and how you show up in those moments. I think many of us will agree that where we sit on this continuum varies throughout the day.
I was in a coaching session last week with Tom who said, at best, he is showing up as a “8” on the continuum. For reference, the continuum ranges from 1 – 10, with 10 being at the end of the continuum where one is at their best. Tom placed an “x” on the line to show his spot as an “8” and pushed the paper towards me. I pushed the paper back and asked him a few more questions about how he shows up in different situations. His responses were all between 7.5-10 on the continuum. I then asked him how his environment, including others he interacts with, impacts where he falls on the continuum. Taking his environment into account, his responses were between 3 – 6 on the continuum.
We switched gears slightly and started talking about reactive tendencies. 70% of people spend the moments of their days in a place of reaction to our environment — phones ringing, emails chiming, text messages chirping, and the demands of our friends, families and colleagues. During our conversation, he insisted with me that he was not operating from a reactive place, but instead, from a place of purpose and where he aspires to be.
As I gently pushed on Tom’s responses, he would respond with statements like “Because, I know I am right, that’s why” or “This is the way I do it and it works well”. He was confident that his direct reports would see him operating at his best and from a place of purpose.
Switching gears again we talked about intention versus people’s perception of us. Tom was very clear that he had positive intention with a lot of drive, perfectionism, confidence and controlling behaviors. I asked him if he believed others saw these positive traits in him, he quickly responded “Absolutely!”
We paused for several minutes as I asked Tom to reflect on our conversation so far. I do this a lot with coaching clients, stop and give time for reflection. I read a long time ago that “reflection is practice.” After the reflective moment, I asked, “What is your key insight?” His response, “I don’t like reflection.” and “What do you want to remember from this reflection?” His response, “Reflection doesn’t come easy for me.”
Sometimes when I am with clients, the obvious is right in front of me — but not my client. As a coach, I refrain from telling clients my observations. This technique has taken practice, but over time, I’ve come to understand the benefit of this approach. Yet, with Tom, I wanted to be sure to share one more piece of information before I went on to ask more questions.
I took the continuum that we had on the piece of paper and at the end with a 1 I changed “not at your best” to “reactive”. At the end with a 10, I changed “at your best” to “purpose/aspiration”. After changing these words, I pushed the piece of paper back in front of Tom. I went through a list of potential questions that were filed away in my head, trying to determine the “right” question for him. As Tom looked at our new continuum categories, I asked this one question, “What’s on your mind?”
Forty-five minutes in, our session was coming to an end. Tom commented that the last time he looked at his watch, we’d had 50 minutes left together. He was shocked that he’d talked to me, more-or-less without interruption, for so long. With our time quickly running out, I decided to ask another question, “What is your key insight?” His response, “Wow, Amber, I truly thought I was showing up as my best self, aligned to my purpose and completely aligned to who I aspire to be. What I realized today is that this isn’t the case. I am showing up reactive – I am being triggered and under a lot of pressure. My environment is one that is reactive, so how can I show up as my best when I don’t properly acknowledge my role in the less-than-ideal environment I am working in?”
Tom paused for a moment and remembered a rule I set with my clients that we can’t answer each other’s questions with a question. So, he corrected the ending of his statement to be, “Wait … I mean. I can’t be showing up as my best self, on purpose, truly authentic, if I don’t own my piece, my behaviors in a reactive, triggering environment.” After a quick pause, he told me he was beginning to see his controlling behaviors so much more clearly – he could see that his need for control, perfection, and confidence all partnered with his need to drive results was creating a liability and taking him away from his desire to want to foster a strong teaming culture, be a strong coach and mentor and show up as a true collaborator.
Our time was up. As we were confirming our plan to connect between sessions, he grabbed his TLC profile and said, “Thank you for introducing me to one of the best leadership development tools I have seen in over 25 years of my leadership career.”
In full transparency, Tom and I have had four, one-on-one coaching sessions over the last 60 days. This is about the time span required to consistently understand my client’s triggers, see their reactive behaviors and identify what they need to change. I provide a space for this exploration – my clients do the hard work.
For confidentially, Tom is not the real name of my client. The story is true but any piece that would identify the client has been changed to protect his identity fully.