Founder & Managing Director Matt Somers - Coaching Skills Training Ltd
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Coaching: The words of wisdom that teach us vital life lessons

Words of wisdom passed down through the generations offer us a common sense approach to modern dilemmas. Here we discuss the importance of gaining personal perspective at work to nuture wellbeing at home.

17th Nov 2020
Founder & Managing Director Matt Somers - Coaching Skills Training Ltd
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Mother and daughter talking
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Last month I wrote about how much of my mother’s generation’s home spun wisdom could be found in modern approaches to coaching and mentoring.

I received some lovely comments and it seemed to strike a chord, so much so that I’ve recalled a few more of her choice sayings which again I think are worth expanding upon.

Home spun wisdom could be found in modern approaches to coaching and mentoring.

There’s a theme running through this set – they’re mainly to do with self-image and I think were mostly volleyed towards me when my mum saw me struggling up the first few rungs of my personal career ladder.

People are their own worst enemy

Or, as a I learnt when I first trained as a coach, we all have an amazing ability to get in our own way.

My own coaching philosophy and approach is firmly rooted in the Inner Game ideas initially put forward by my friend and mentor Tim Gallwey in the early 1970s.

It seems we all have that voice in our head warning us to be careful or not to try.

Gallwey has a neat way of describing the expression of an individual’s potential, which I like to call ‘The Performance Equation’: Potential – Interference = Performance.

Looked at through a work lens this means that if we wish to raise performance we must do one of two things:

  • Increase potential – by perhaps providing additional knowledge or skills.
  • Decrease interference – remove obstacles that create a flow of potential

Coaching, as I see it, is far more about the identification and minimisation of interference than increasing potential. When I follow that route and ask my training participants to call out examples of interference, the following list would be typical a response.

External Internal
Poor management Trying too hard
Poor relationships Negative thoughts
Policy & procedures Negative memories
Environment Negative beliefs
Lack of time Limiting thoughts
Lack of budget Worry and anxiety

The external/internal separation here is perhaps a bit contrived but helps us distinguish between environmental interference and internal mind interference. The latter being a much trickier problem to overcome in my experience.

Time and again when I’m coaching people we find the root of the problem in these sorts of internal interferences, which seem ultimately to be about fear or self-doubt. It seems we all have that voice in our head warning us to be careful or not to try.

In other words, my mum was right, people really are their own worst enemy.

Graveyards are full of indispensable people

I believe she was paraphrasing Elbert Hubbard here who’d said, “The graveyards are full of people the world could not do without.” But my mum was more succinct.

The point is that she would often tell me this on occasions when I was perhaps taking myself a little too seriously or losing a bit of perspective. As I developed at work and collected a promotion or two I began to take my performance and responsibilities a bit more seriously, especially if they impacted other people.

I would, for example, still go to work even if I was full of cold and feeling awful (which now seems like lunacy in a post-Covid world). I would get in early to get ahead or I would stay late because it was essential that I attended a particular meeting.

Organisations can usually take losing people in their stride – families cannot.

But as my mother would regularly remind me, with this somewhat withering comment, “life would go on without me”. Other people were more than capable of doing the work I insisted I had to get in early to do. Given a bit of notice, someone else at the meeting could have covered what I needed to and so on.

This manifests in my coaching when I find myself encouraging leaders to keep things in perspective. Whilst their job and position is important, so is their personal wellbeing and that of their families.

Organisations can usually take losing people in their stride – families cannot.

When you die your inbox will still be full

At the risk of this article becoming a bit morbid, this titbit of advice does follow nicely from the previous one.

I’ve had to bring it up to date a little because my mum never had an inbox and would have found the idea of one preposterous. She made lists and notes and crossed things off.

If she needed to speak to someone she would either phone them or more often, put her coat on and go and see them. If push came to shove she could always write a letter.

In my early working years I struggled with the idea of ‘pending’ – scheduling things for another time. I much preferred the idea of going home at night with empty trays and a clear mind, but my Mum soon convinced me that this was simply not possible.

This occurs today as chasing after the seemingly unattainable goal of ‘inbox zero’ or the zealous completion of to do lists, Slack tasks or Trello boards.

It is important that leaders take care of themselves – it’s not selfish to do so, quite the reverse.

The fact is that working life is a barrel with a tap at the top as well as the bottom – which means no matter how much you drain out (get done) it will always fill up again (new work).

Coaches are well placed to help people deal with this and help them make a difficult shift in focus away from efficiency (doing things right) to effectiveness (doing the right things).

We are living in extraordinary times. Covid and the restrictions in place to combat it are dragging on and a deep fatigue is setting in.

It is important that leaders take care of themselves – it’s not selfish to do so, quite the reverse. It’s an absolutely essential component of being there for the people that need them.

As my mum would have said, “An empty lantern provides no light.”

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