Achieving Impact part 1
March 6, 2020

Achieving impact via the Welsh Coaching Conference 2020 (part 1)

By Paul Laughlin

Welcome to my fifth year of blogging about the Welsh Coaching Conference, this time our theme was Achieving Impact.

Once again this great event delivered on that promise, with inspiring keynotes & practical masterclass workshops. The latter being more experiential and all the better for that.

Our chair, once again, was the charismatic Dave Tee. He is such a well-connected leader of the coaching community in Wales. Dave, who is also the editor of The Coaching Psychologist from the BPS, brought together a great collection of voices to help all types of coaches develop & achieve more impact. Well done once again to Dave & the organising team.

A sadder moment during the introduction was an honouring of the late Tony Grant. Both Dave & all keynote speakers paid homage to both his legacy for the coaching community and the pleasure of working with him as a person. It was so fitting that this event was dedicated to a man who helped coaches achieve more impact & better measure that impact.

In this post, I’ll only summarise the sessions I attended. From the positive reviews I heard from others, the other streams were also well worth attending. But I’m pleased with the choices I made. First up was a name who is well known to this blog, our regular guest blogger, Kevin Watson.

The Magic of metaphor in coaching

As well as blogging, Kevin is a very experienced & creative leadership coach. With a corporate leadership career in Retail (including Selfridges), he now helps individual leaders & teams using a variety of techniques. One powerful tool is the use of metaphor.

This was the first of those very experiential workshops. Without any Powerpoint slides, we first explored a blank sheet of A4 paper in pairs. Then we drew 3 circles to represent our coaching experience on those sheets. It was amazing how many metaphors (for challenges & choices) we all saw in such a basic prop.

Kevin explained some more about the power of metaphor & storytelling. Supported by some group exercises using beautiful photos on postcards, we discovered more layers of meaning & interpretation as we reflected on personal issues. This learning included how the stories we tell ourselves (or see in imagery/metaphor) enable us to:

  • Relate
  • Connect
  • Express
  • Complete

A powerful experience that was warmly welcomed by all those who participated. I have seen the power of using imagery with some of my coaching clients & will definitely explore this further.

For more on Kevin’s thinking, see his blog:

Achieving impact with coaching – the scientific evidence

Back in the main hall after a refreshing break (with a chance to network), it was time to hear from one of the leading coaching academics. The charming Prof Erik de Haan who is Director of the Centre for Coaching at Ashridge. Erik is not only a prolific author & expert educator but also pioneers progress on robust research into coaching practice. Moving beyond qualitative ‘warm words’ from our clients to evidence that coaching works.

I’ve shared previously my book review of Erik’s heartwarming curation of coaches personal stories in “Behind Closed Doors“. The same human warmth & compassion comes through even as Erik shares what could be a dry subject for coaches with no scientific background.

Taking us back to the roots of most coaching approaches, in Psychotherapy, he walked us through how the different schools had emerged & developed. How cognitive behavioural coaching (CBC) brought together 3 previously competing streams, plus where approaches like Positive Psychology and Solution-Based Coaching come from.

One of the reasons for sharing this was the greater scientific standard (Randomised Control Trials) evidence that exists in therapy, given the larger numbers of trials. However, Erik also usefully summarised all the leading research studies on the effectiveness of coaching. A number of important lessons stood out from this scientific study:

  1. Coaching is effective – clients see improvements in a number of areas & changes in behaviour are noticed by others.
  2. Different approaches are equally effective – latest studies suggest less than 8% of differences in the effectiveness can be attributed to a difference between coaching approaches (rather common factors make the biggest difference (listening, regularity, intention etc).

Through an exercise of getting us all to think through the metaphor we would use for ourselves as an effective coach, Erik gave us some personal advice. If different approaches are equally effective, choose one that suits you. I love the authenticity of this & the broad church it will continue to encourage (as events like this also help us all know about the options).

As I’ve read before, the majority of factors predicting the effectiveness of coaching are due to the client. Things like their conscientiousness, openness, stability, self-efficacy etc. That is why it is so important that leaders are empowered to choose their own coaches & not be sent to a coach selected by the organisation. Research shows that demograophic & even gender matching are very poor predictors of an effective coaching relationship.

Often client’s personality traits will remain unchanged by coaching. A finding from research that is not surprising given the limited time & other psychology research. But, two personality traits did show significant improvement (achieving impact). These are:

  • Increasing Prudence (becoming more responsible)
  • Reducing Excitability (becoming less volatile)

Encouraging evidence for clients & coaches working together on those aspects. As with all good academics, Erik also highlighted the many gaps that still need more research (ones where he is also pouring his efforts). But, in summary, this was a useful encouragement, particularly for those of us concerned with statistical evidence, that coaching works.

More on Erik’s pioneering academic work here:

Erik de Haan

‘Cultivate relationships with those who can teach you. Let friendly intercourse (…)’ Erik de Haan is Director of the Ashridge Centre for Coaching and Professor of Organisation Development and Coaching at the VU University Amsterdam. He published nearly 200 professional and research articles and 14 books, covering his main fields of expertise as a leadership and organisational consultant, facilitator and coach.

Do you know how to consider the Gestalt when coaching?

After a tasty lunch & plenty of time to chat with other coaches (and friends), it was time for another masterclass. This time it was another friend of this blog, recent guest blogger, Ty Francis.

Ty has a wealth of experience in Gestalt coaching and has the unenviable challenge of trying to explain this deep subject in only a 50 min workshop. Wisely he also chose to make that experienced-based. Working in pairs we discovered how much more we noticed as we focused on:

  • the “Other
  • our “Inner” world
  • the space/energy “Between” us & in our conversation

Working in silence and looking at someone you have not met before can be a powerful experience, raising your awareness of how much more is going on. Ty explained the key principles of raising self-awareness as to both how we Contact others and the Context in which we meet. For more on that, I recommend Ty’s expertly curated collection of essays on Gestalt coaching in practice, called “Contact & Context“.

Like mindfulness, there is much focus on the present moment and what is happening in what is termed “the field“. Which I would simplistically explain being aware more holistically of the whole person you are coaching, your impact and what you are co-creating together.

Deep psychological (and philosophical) stuff! But Ty was brilliant of simplifying and giving us all an experience of what this means. As much of this practice is also about a heightened awareness of being embodied and what is going on physically & emotionally (not just rationally), this helped. I would heartily recommend seeking out a workshop with Ty.

Out of so much to learn about awareness about the holistic whole (the Gestalt in German = roughly translated as the whole that is greater than the sum of the parts), here are a few things that stayed with me:

  • Gestalt coaching does not use goals as not trying to change the client
  • The paradoxical theory of change, which shows how: “change happens when we abandon what we want to become and attempt to be who we really are.”
  • It uses Self as an instrument of enquiry
  • A key aspect if co-creation, using creative experiments

An inspiring workshop that left me wanting to learn so much more about this coaching approach. One that is also grounded in evidence from decades of use in therapy & from my limited experience has the potential to enable deeper work with a client. work that is not limited to the present challenge but their growth (or flourishing) as a leader to be better able to handle future challenges in life.

For more on Ty’s work, please check out his blog: at MeUs

How could you be achieving impact with your coaching? What else?

I hope you found part 1 useful. It is a credit to how much there was to learn at this conference that I have split my 2020 review into two parts. In part 2, I will also share insights from:

  • dynamic keynote on the meeting of Positive & Coaching Psychology
  • world premiere of a new coaching model (coaching for alignment)
  • a masterclass on what coaching can learn from acting

In the meantime, based on what you’ve read, what can you start to do differently? What of the above has caught your imagination? Which could help you develop as a coach or gain more value as a coaching client? Any experiments you are keen to try?

I recommend you take a moment now to note down that intention & importantly diarise when you will take action. See you again in part 2.