Turning away from the schools of thought that have informed Executive Coaching for the last 20 years, Coaching Narratively deconstructs two significant taken for granted beliefs and ideas that operate in the background of most coaching approaches. The first is that leadership is individualistic and requires identifying some essential “right way” to lead. The second is that the Coach is the expert.
Since the mid-1990s, coaching has been used to improve individual effectiveness of a leader, often with emphasis on the ability to influence and lead others in the business setting. What has been left out is that leadership is contextual, personal, and social.
Coaches are trained to bring a methodology and set of practices to help clients reach specific professional goals. Typically, the coach provides mental models, processes, and an ability to interpret the leader’s meaning-making structure. The miss here is that the leader privileges the interpretations and injections of what is normal by the coach, who often is acting as a surrogate for the organization’s interpretation of normal or their own beliefs about what is ideal, not the leader’s.
Coaching Narratively is based on the following concepts:
- leadership is context dependent
- leadership is social and leaders are part of a web of socially constructed relationships
- one’s identity as a leader is narratively and socially constructed
- our identities as leaders are always evolving, creating new paths and multiple options for action
- a primary responsibility of a leader in creating a high functioning culture is to ensure that most of their members share an understanding of what is real, important and valued (Schein, 2010)
Using a seamless integration of narrative therapy, philosophy, identity psychology and social construction, this work is founded on the belief that each person carries the resources within themselves and within their network of relationships to create with others the responses and actions that advance and benefit the whole.
Coaching Narratively is ideal for leaders who are seeking to lead through connection, conversation and sense-making with the people they lead.
Candidates for this approach:
- may have received coaching in the past and are now ready to build the social or cultural competencies to meet the complexity and demands to leverage diversity for innovation
- are not entirely happy with the direction their current narrative or story of who they are or who the organization believes they are, is taking them
- may have many divergent or disparate voices in their organization that they need to blend into one collective view of a path forward
Expanded Values Vocabulary
Most of us have a limited values vocabulary. Without a way to name all of the values that influence a leader’s decisions or know which of the values they hold as priority they will struggle to understand the forces that influence their decision making and actions. Without the ability to name and understand the place from which their values came, they will be limited in leveraging the full resource of what shaped them. Without the vocabulary to name what they are aspiring to create, they will have difficulty in establishing the narrative of possible and new realities. Additionally, having an expanded values vocabulary, the leader will be better able to listen for the values expressed by others.
The work includes completion of a values clarification and measurement tool. The values report provides the leader with a list of 35-40 priority values. This instrument broadens the values vocabulary for a richer set of choices and sets the foundation for building an “ear” for hearing the values expressed in conversation with others. Completing the values inventory review sets the stage for the next step in the work.
We rarely take the time to reflect on the whole picture of what has happened in our lives – the influential people, the small and large events, the impacts of the culture around us and its messages about what is right, normal, or role prescribed. Once in leadership, many select to not share personal information about who they are and wall off the richest resource available to share with others about what matters to them and why. Followers want to know the “Why?” behind a leader’s decision making, what they stand for and how they reflect the collective’s identity.
Using the values as the starting point, the leader will be guided through an intensive process of linking the values to the key events and influences of their life. A Life Review process will guide the leader through a charting of the key events and influences in their life. This work results in a multi layered and expanded story of “Who am I as a leader?”.
Re-membering our Community of Support
We all have important people in our lives but rarely take the time to a.) fully explore what each person saw in us, b.) understand how they influenced who we are and c.) consciously stay in a relationship with these individuals even if they have died. The process of building a strong community is critical for any leader because of the highly social aspect of leadership and the need for sustaining support through the inevitable challenges of bringing new ideas, processes or social practices into being.
Working in depth with one’s life influencers, the leader will bring past, current and lost individuals (re-member) into their support network and add greater dimension to how these key people provided identity constituting contributions to who they are today. The leader will also engage in first person interviews with living influencers to better understand the ways in which these people have contributed and continue to contribute to who they are in the world. The result of this work is an additional dimension, steeped in the cultural and relationtional influences, of their “Who am I as a leader?” story.
Re-storying Problem Stories
Most of us tend to personalize our problems. I have a problem vs. maybe the way I am talking about/thinking about this problem is the problem. Our highly individualized and independence focused culture tends to place all of the weight of problems on the self. “I am deficient in some way, I am unable to make this change, I am just that way and can’t seem to change.” vs. understanding the influences of the culture, society and unconscious beliefs.
This approach to limiting or problem oriented stories works by changing the way we speak about and interact with the problem story. This methodology enables the leader to interact with the problem story in new ways, resulting in new stories and strategies which unseat the problem and make way for greater freedom of choice and action. The outcome of this work is the recovery of stories which were previously undervalued and a greater sense of freedom to work with others to effect positive change.
NOTE: Working with re-storying in Diversity and Inclusion settings has an additional step which helps the leader understand and prepare for the power of counter stories.
Reinforcing and Strengthening the Narratives
Folding together the work from the previous four steps of the process, the leader will compose a variety of texts for their leadership interactions. The narrative will answer the questions, “Who am I?” and “Who am I becoming as a leader?” as well as “How do I see who I am reflected in who WE are?”.
Not only will the leader produce several forms of their narrative, they will also work with the coach to develop a very specific action plan for how and when they will be sharing the leadership story, engaging others in sharing their story and finally, instituting story based methods for sensemaking and strategic planning.