March 13, 2015

Wales All Sector Coaching Conference

By Paul Laughlin

welsh-coaching-conference-2Although this was a coaching conference, aimed at coaches of all kinds, the content proved very insightful in understanding human thinking & behaviour, so should also be of interest to all leaders.

It was hosted at University of South Wales, by the very friendly Commercial Services team there. Sponsors included the Association of Coaching & the Institute of Leadership & Management (I’m a member of both organisations and recommend their resources). Our chair was the passionate hub of coaching in South Wales, Dave Tee an excellent academic and coach of coaches who has really advanced the focus on coaching in this region.

Themes for the day proved to be learning from Neuroscience, best practice in coaching (especially selecting a coach), Ethics in business and the controversial topic of aptly titled “Provocative Coaching“. There was much to learn from speakers in all these areas.

To kick off, Tom May who leads research for the ILM shared the results of their latest research on coaching practice. This included the rather concerning finding that most coaches surveyed couldn’t define coaching and were wooly on measuring effectiveness. More encouragingly, it also included a recommended 10 step process for leaders/professionals when selecting a coach, I’ve shared those very practical suggestions in an earlier post.

Next we had a workshop from engaging Amy Brann on lessons learnt from neuroscience. This included the “hand model” of the brain and the relevance to neuro-plasticity to evidence that mindfulness and other relaxation techniques can change our ‘hard wired’ responses or at least ability to calm and manage our emotional reactions. Given some over-selling of the learning from this emerging science from some coaches, I was keen to question Amy on how we can reconcile the emphasis in this area on potential to ‘reprogram’ ourselves with the findings from Behavioural Economics which suggest we need to accept unconscious bias and work with it. Her advice was pragmatic and balanced, encouraging me that there are methods to help clients both behaviourally and with their inner cognitive & emotional experiences.

Prof Roger Steare was our next speaker. With the cool job title of “The Corporate Philosopher“, through use of video and lots of interaction he got us to consider the meaning of life, the universe & everything, without coping out and answering 42. A key theme of his presentation was the reality that as human beings we are motivated by Love, Logic & Law in our personal lives but when we come to work too many organisations try to control staff through laws. He provided some compelling evidence and arguments against the false protection of more “laws” to mitigate risks, with a better solution being an empowered & motivated culture. He also addressed the twin problems of too many workers being compliant, whilst too many senior leaders only lead through Logic and need to remember their hearts as well to actually bring their teams with them.

After lunch, we were kept well and truly awake by the hilarious Harry Key. He is a trainer of Provocative Coaching, as well as being a tall funny Aussie and ex-Bollywood actor. He describes this as “listening to the devil on your shoulder” or saying what you shouldn’t. It is basically a way of using shock techniques and humour to draw a client out of being self-defeating. For instance if they say they won’t amount to anything, rather than focussing on positivity or emotional support, replying (with suitable jokey tone) “you’re probably right, you haven’t done great so far have you?”. It sounds shocking & when demonstrated can almost look like bullying. But when handled with enough care it is like the application of ‘blokey banter’ down the pub to coaching. There is some substance to the underlying psychology as well. Due to our inbuilt contrarian nature, if the coach starts criticising us we will be drawn into swapping roles and saying “hang on a sec, I’m not that bad”. Needless to say the sarcastic insulting practice sessions were hilarious, but also left me thinking I’d be careful about when I apply this method. But I can see it’s helpful in the toolkit.

After a useful workshop practicing the co-active coaching method, which is intriguing but would take too long to explain now, we finished the event with a fascinating presentation from Clive Hyland. He also returned to the topic of neuroscience and drew on the audience to help describe three layers in our brains. These are, first the “reptilian brain” from which we get our instincts, intuition and gut reactions (which we often ignore at our peril). Next is the “mammalian brain” from which we get our emotions, energy, feelings, creativity etc (so it’s also important to be able to access this part of our thinking in work). Finally the cortex part of human brain, with the rationale component, conscious logical, mathematical thought (where we do our System 1, slow thinking). Clive made a persuasive case that communication happens at all levels and we will be more effective in our when we can identify the type of communication that is happening (head or heart, idea or action, gut-feel or creative process).

Overall well worth attending and let me know if you’d like to know more on any of these topics. I’ve also shared above the links to others where I have them. Engaging the whole person is certainly just as key to customer insight leaders as others leading teams and critical in our insight generation about customers.