The Stories of Our Lives

A new journey that I started in 2018 was to learn more about Narrative Coaching. Taking the 6-month live virtual Enhanced Narrative Coach Practicioner Program of Dr. David Drake helped me realize that the stories we have and tell about ourselves, and those that others tell about us, are very powerful influences in our lives.

When the stories are “problem saturated,” transforming them into positive stories can make a huge difference in who we become and how things turn out. The origins of Narrative Coaching, as well as Narrative Counseling, spring from Narrative Therapy. Lucky for us who are keenly interested in learning more about Narrative approaches, tools and techniques, so that we can use these in helping others discover and achieve more of their potential, there are many resources available. One is the Dulwich Centre, Australia, that offers a free introductory course on Narrative Therapy.

One resource in the Centre that can help us realize the power of stories is the TED talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie about “The Danger of a Single Story.” One key point is that there is never a single story about a place or a person, and to the extent that we blindly swallow and repeat single problem saturated stories, without ever questioning them, and without digging deeper and wider to learn about different perspectives and alternative realities, we perpetuate misunderstanding. Worse, we may be ignorantly and unfairly destroying others.

There are many stories we create about places, about ourselves, others, and just about anything. In the context of narrative practice, “stories consists of events, linked in sequence, across time, according to a plot” (Alice Morgan, 2000. What is narrative therapy?: An easy-to-read introduction (Gecko 2000) First Edition Edition.)

The power that we have over our stories is that we can re-story, that is, we can choose to create new stories that open new possibilities that can lead to a better future instead of staying stuck in destructive stories. As one colleague put it, “you are not your story.” A story is just a story, and we can break free from bad ones and pivot to new ones.

In the context of family, a lesson for parents is that you must carefully choose the stories you tell about your children, for the seeds of growth or destruction are nascent in such stories. Start with a negative plot line and highlight only negative events over and over, and the pattern will surely lead to a downward spiral. Instead, look for alternative positive plot lines, enrich these plots with positive events, and you have taken control over creating a brighter future.

This one TED Talk can make a difference for us and for others if we let the key messages sink in and stop mindlessly, or worse, maliciously repeating problem saturated stories that may just be based on mistaken assumptions to begin with.

We may have all been at the receiving end of single stories, as well as perpetrators of such stories. If we own that we are part of the problem, then we can begin to choose to take a different and constructive course of action.

Any change takes an open mind, an open heart, and an open will, to borrow from Otto Scharmer’s Theory U.

So, what are your stories about yourself and about others? What would be more positive stories instead?

What is Professional Coaching and How Is It Different From Other Service Professions?

One of the things that a coach must do at the beginning of a coaching relationship is to help her coaching client better understand what professional coaching is and how it is different from other service professions.  Often, coaching clients mistakenly think that coaching is the same as giving advice or consulting or counseling. However, these are different in important ways. Key points are quoted from Coaching FAQs in the International Coach Federation website.

What is professional coaching?

“ICF defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential… Coaches honor the client as the expert in his or her life and work and believe every client is creative, resourceful and whole. Standing on this foundation, the coach’s responsibility is to:

  • Discover, clarify, and align with what the client wants to achieve
  • Encourage client self-discovery
  • Elicit client-generated solutions and strategies
  • Hold the client responsible and accountable

This process helps clients dramatically improve their outlook on work and life, while improving their leadership skills and unlocking their potential.”

How is coaching distinct from other service professions?

Professional coaching focuses on setting goals, creating outcomes and managing personal change. Sometimes it’s helpful to understand coaching by distinguishing it from other personal or organizational support professions.

Therapy: Therapy deals with healing pain, dysfunction and conflict within an individual or in relationships. The focus is often on resolving difficulties arising from the past that hamper an individual’s emotional functioning in the present, improving overall psychological functioning, and dealing with the present in more emotionally healthy ways. Coaching, on the other hand, supports personal and professional growth based on self-initiated change in pursuit of specific actionable outcomes. These outcomes are linked to personal or professional success. Coaching is future focused. While positive feelings/emotions may be a natural outcome of coaching, the primary focus is on creating actionable strategies for achieving specific goals in one’s work or personal life. The emphases in a coaching relationship are on action, accountability, and follow through.

Consulting: Individuals or organizations retain consultants for their expertise. While consulting approaches vary widely, the assumption is the consultant will diagnose problems and prescribe and, sometimes, implement solutions. With coaching, the assumption is that individuals or teams are capable of generating their own solutions, with the coach supplying supportive, discovery-based approaches and frameworks.

Mentoring: A mentor is an expert who provides wisdom and guidance based on his or her own experience. Mentoring may include advising, counseling and coaching. The coaching process does not include advising or counseling, and focuses instead on individuals or groups setting and reaching their own objectives.

Training: Training programs are based on objectives set out by the trainer or instructor. Though objectives are clarified in the coaching process, they are set by the individual or team being coached, with guidance provided by the coach. Training also assumes a linear learning path that coincides with an established curriculum. Coaching is less linear without a set curriculum.

Athletic Development: Though sports metaphors are often used, professional coaching is different from sports coaching. The athletic coach is often seen as an expert who guides and directs the behavior of individuals or teams based on his or her greater experience and knowledge. Professional coaches possess these qualities, but their experience and knowledge of the individual or team determines the direction. Additionally, professional coaching, unlike athletic development, does not focus on behaviors that are being executed poorly or incorrectly. Instead, the focus is on identifying opportunity for development based on individual strengths and capabilities.”

Source:  Retrieved from Coaching FAQs at

Visit the International Coach Federation website to learn more about professional coaching at

Seven Essentials of Encouraging the Heart

What is leadership and how do we help leaders in their continuing journey of development? There are many ideas, models, approaches and tools. One of the powerful ideas is the Seven Essentials of Encouraging the Heart from Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner which they wrote about in their book The Leadership Challenge and developed further in their follow-up book Encouraging the Heart. They assert that leadership is a relationship, and having a connection with one’s team and each team member is critical to being a successful leader.

The root word “cor” means heart. in Spanish, “corazon” means heart. Encouraging the Heart is about the principles and practices that support our basic human need to be appreciated for who we are and what we do. It’s about how leaders can apply specific principles and concrete practices. Leaders are made and not born, and anyone can become a more effective leader by working on their leadership practices and behaviors. The seven essentials give leaders specific actions and behaviors to apply day-to-day.

The Seven Essentials of Encouraging the Heart:
1. Set Clear Standards
2. Expect the Best
3. Pay Attention
4. Personalize Recognition
5. Tell the Story
6. Celebrate Together
7. Set the Example

In Encouraging the Heart workshops I have facilitated, I’ve realized that many managers and leaders really do not usually show appreciation nor give recognition to what their teams, especially individual staff, have accomplished and contributed to achieving the standards. Most are very task and results oriented and quickly move on to the next task without any acknowledgments given. The authors use the word standards to mean goals, expectations, or objectives as well as values or principles. Standards refer to standards of excellence, and must be aspirational to bring out the best in everyone.

Some reasons given by managers and leaders for not giving credit where credit is due include, “…they’re just doing their job…,” “…we may be seen as playing favorites…,” and ” …they may think we are not sincere…. The fear of being vulnerable and misinterpreted seem to be deep seated. Whatever, the reasons one may have, the workshop enables participants to refelct on their most memorable recognition received and given, do a self assessment of their current practices against the Encourgement Index, and then create an action plan for building up the use of the seven essentials. Participants focus on areas for improvement as well as enhancing their strengths.

At the end of the day, at the heart of effective leadership is genuinely caring for people and consistenly applying tested leadership principles and practices.

Situational Leadership and Executive Coaching, Part 2

As I mentioned in Part 1 of the post, one interesting discovery I had is that Situational Leadership is also applicable to Executive Coaching.

“Executive coaching requires exceptional leadership and questioning skills to be effective. At no point is leadership more important than in assisting clients in defining their performance issues and identifying the underlying causes.”

This is how Paul Hershey and Roger Chevalier began their article on Situational Leadership and Executive Coaching, and it made me stop and think, again, about how asking powerful questions can make a difference in the coachee’s self awareness and create that “aha” moment. The first time I heard about asking powerful questions, I wasn’t sure what that really meant. But as our coaching class did the exercises on coming up with what we thought were powerful questions and discussed which were and weren’t, then I began to understand.

They added an Executive Coaching Guide to Situational Leadership to show how it provides a structure to guide executive coaches in working with their clients. The principle is the same in that executive coaches must adjust their leadership styles to their client’s readiness to perform a given task. Readiness refers to ability and willingness.

As a performance aid, the Executive Coaching Guide provides a process and a two-phased framework for interviewing, counseling and coaching situations. The first phase focuses on asessing a client’s readiness in dealing with each of his issues, performance or otherwise, and choosing an appropriate leadership style. Assessing readiness helps the coach choose the appropriate leadership style to work with his client. The coach asks open-ended questions to assess how the client sees the overall situation and gain insight on the his issues. The readiness level for each issue may vary.

The second phase focuses on selecting the appropriate leadership style to intervene in a manner that has the best probabilty of a positive outcome for the client. The coach matches his coaching leadership style, choosing from the following:

  • R1 – Client is unable and unwilling or not confident
  • S1 Prescribe – 1. Presents alternative courses of action. 2. Identify the best course of action. 3. Inform, describe, instruct, and direct.
  • R2 – Client is Unable but willing or confident
  • S2 – Develop – 1. Discuss ways to improve performance. 2. Reach agreement on best course of action. 3. Guide, persuade, explain, and train.
  • R3 – Client is able but unwilling or not confident
  • S3 – Reinforce – 1. Reinforce the process used and the progress made. 2. Reinforce self-worth and self esteem. 3. Encourage, support, motivate, and empower.
  • R4 – Client is able and willing or confident
  • S4 – Follow-up – 1. Document session in clien’t record. 2. Follow through on all commitmenets. 3. Monitor progress and prepare for next session.

Leading with questions in one of the most critical skills of executive coaches in working with clients to analyze performance gaps and causes, to set a reasonable and achieveable goal, to process options and decide on a course of action that moves the client forward.

The Executive Coaching Guide is published in Coaching for Leadership, Writings on Leadership from the World’s Greatest Coaches, Edited by Marshall Goldsmith, Laurence S. Lyons, and Sarah Mc. Arthur.

Situational Leadership and Executive Coaching, Part 1

In some of the continuing executive education classes I’ve taught where we did the Leader Effectiveness and Adaptability Description (L.E.A.D.) self-assessment questionnaire exercise developed by Paul Hershey and Kenneth Blanchard, I found out that many managers and executives are not familiar with the concept of Situational Leadership.

For those who did the exercise for the first time, it was definitely an eye opener for them to discover that their preferred or default leadership style may not always be the most appropriate in all situations. There is no one size that fits all in terms of leadership styles. It was also an eye opener that there is a model that one can use to assess the readiness of one’s team and team members and then adapt one’s leadership style.

In a nutshell, the Hersey-Blanchard Situational Leadership Theory states that instead of using just one style, successful leaders must change their leadership styles based on the task maturity of the team they are leading, and the realtionship and support the team needs to get the work done.

As tasks vary in complexity while the team’s ability to do the task also varies, managers can give more or less attention to the task vs. the realtionship and support to the team.

According to Hersey and Blanchard, there are four main leadership styles:

  • Telling (S1) – Leaders tell their people exactly what to do, and how to do it.
  • Selling (S2) – Leaders still provide information and direction, but there’s more communication with followers. Leaders “sell” their message to get the team on board.
  • Participating (S3) – Leaders focus more on the relationship and less on direction. The leader works with the team, and shares decision-making responsibilities.
  • Delegating (S4) – Leaders pass most of the responsibility onto the follower or group. The leaders still monitor progress, but they’re less involved in decisions.

Leadership Styles S1 and S2 focus on getting the task done, while Styles S3 and S4 focus on developing the team members’ abilities to work independently.

One interesting discovery I had is that Situational Leadership is also applicable to Executive Coaching. Read more about this in Part 2.

Knowing Which Hat To Wear

So what if consulting, coaching, and mentoring are different form each other? As a professional coach, it is important to know how one is similar and different from the other so that you know which hat to wear given a specific client requirement or situation.

One interesting perspective was given by Edgar Schein when he wrote about indoctrination, training, education and coaching in his essay Coaching and Consultation Revisited, Are They The Same? Essentially, all these involve changing the behavior of an individual or groups of individuals in an organization. One can say the same thing about consulting and mentoring as well.

Schein clarified that what’s different is that in coaching the coach does not necessarily have in mind a predetermined direction or outcome, the coach does not have arbitrary power over the person, and that the person volunteers and is motivated to learn.

He thought of coaching as helping a person develop a new way of seeing, feeling about, and behaving in situations that are defined by the person, the client, as problematic. In coaching, the goal is selected by the client. He viewed coaching as a subset of consulting.

While you may or may not agree that coaching is a subset of consulting, at the end of the day, you may agree with his point that it’s more important that you can easily move from one role to the other as needed, and that the ultimate skill of a coach is to assess the moment-to-moment reality that will help him or her know which hat to wear to be in the appropriate role.

From Consulting to Coaching: How is Coaching Different from Consulting

Having been a management consultant for many years, one of the questions that intrigued me was how is coaching really different from consulting and how can I be a better coach given my consulting background. I had the mistaken notion that being a management consultant all these years automatically made me a good professional coach. One of the things I learned is that the mindset and approach is different.

Coaching involves working with clients or “coachees” to help them maximize their personal and professional potential. While this can mean a lot of things, however, the focus of coaching is the coachee, that is, helping her to clarify her developmental goals, determine alternative courses of action, moving forward to achieve her goals, and holding her accountable for these.

While there are various niches of coaching, such as executive coaching, team coaching, life coaching, performance coaching, business coaching, and more, the essence is that it is the coachee who is ultimately responsible developing greater self awareness, gaining insights about herself and what may be keeping her from moving forward, for assessing the choices available to her, and for deciding and taking a course of action. The coachee works on and with herself with the coach as a facilitator, not as an adviser, mentor or consultant. Personal change and growth happens from the inside out.

Consulting involves working with organizations to analyze business problems or challenges and providing advice and solutions, including helping the client to implement these. Consultants are typically engaged because they are domain or subject matter experts in a particular industry, a particular business line, a functional or process or other specialization. They are expected to address the business challenges with implementable and working solutions that enable the client to achieve the desired business outcomes.

From my coaching experience, I’ve learned that I am not there to “fix” the coachee, as the coachee does not need or want fixing. I am not there to do something to the coachee, but rather I must have strong coaching presence so that the coachee and I take our evolving journey together. I go with flow while also influencing the conversation to achieve the coachee’s desired goals and outcomes.

From my consulting experience, the consultant was always expected to analyze and solve the problem, or to analyze the new business requirements, draw up the action plan to get from point A to point B, help organize and run the project implementation teams, and actually implement the change. Thus, in other words, the consultant is expected to “make things happen,” “make things work,” and “get things done” while working with her client counterparts.

Definitions of Interest

There are many definitions of coaching and management consulting, nevertheless, these selected ones help to clarify these two professions.

Coaching: “Coaching is partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential. It is an ongoing professional relationship that helps people produce extraordinary results in their lives, careers, businesses, or organizations.”

– The International Coaching Federation (ICF) is recognized worldwide as the credentialing organization for professional coaches.

Management Consulting: “Management consulting indicates both the industry of, and the practice of, helping organizations improve their performance, primarily through the analysis of existing business problems and development of plans for improvement. A management consultant is a professional who, for a fee, provides independent and objective advice to the management of client organizations to define and achieve their goals through improved utilization of resources. He or she may do this by diagnosing problems and/or opportunities, recommending solutions, and helping implement improvement.”

– The Institute of Certified Management Consultants of the Philippines (ICMCP) is an institute affiliated with The International Council of Management Consulting Institutes (ICMCI). The ICMCS is an international membership organisation and a network of the management advisory and consultancy associations and institutes worldwide, who have a common purpose and shared values and goals.