Full Circle

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:35 pm

While starting this column, I’ve been interrupted several times in the nicest way – family members calling to sing "Happy Birthday."

Birthdays are often a time for reflection, and I’ve been reflecting on how the past year has been one of circling back. My offspring were all born in Florida, transplanted to West Virginia, then Wisconsin, then points east and west on their own. Now they’ve all circled back to live in Florida, where they are blossoming indeed.

With the help of the Internet, and some serendipity, several old friends, some from 40 years ago, have re-entered my life. Because of a class reunion, a couple of other friendships which had cooled over the years are now warm and lively again. Lots of circles have enriched the past year.

I’ve been reflecting too, on how 10 years ago we called my work executive consulting, not coaching. I suspect that 10 years hence, the term coaching will be replaced as well.

A brilliant man named Thomas Leonard really drove the coaching movement. Early on in my training, I think it was in 1997, he said he thought the coaching profession would grow rapidly during the next five years, and then something else would claim the organizational spotlight.

Thomas’ untimely death saddened all of us who knew him. We still lean heavily on his legacy – the mountain of writings he produced. He was a bit off on that five-year prediction, but I think not markedly so. Someone asked me just last week if I thought that the proliferation of coaches had diluted respect for the field generally. I believe so and often say, "Now that everyone is a coach…"

With Sandye Brown, my colleague in the Coach Training Partnership, we train internal coaches for large organizations. Bringing coaching skills in-house is one development that has already taken hold. Other hybrids are in the pipeline.

So, something else will probably emerge as the new organizational buzz word. I have a feeling that too will reflect a circling back to some basic business principles that have worked for generations.

My 12 years in West Virginia were spent quite happily in Huntington, a small town by most definitions. After moving there I was favorably impressed by how people did business on the strength of relationship – we’re already circling back to that practice – and talk as if this were the new thing. In Huntington, everyone in business knew just about everyone else in business. Deals were closed with a handshake. No one shopped the competition to save a few bucks.

I have a hope that many of the coaching principles are sustainable, that they are becoming embedded in the world of commerce and will continue to enrich relationships, productivity and personal growth far into the future.

Thomas taught us that a strong foundation will prevent most problems. Another coaching principle he promoted is that most humans operate at far less than their potential, and a skilled coach can elicit a client’s greatness. The client has the agenda, not the coach. The value of the relationship is defined by the client, not by the coach.

Coaches design safe, supportive environments and help the clients develop environments that inspire continuous development. We respect the client’s humanity. We believe that systems improve productivity and afford achievement – and clearly reduce frustration. We believe there is always a better way, and that tolerating annoyances of any size is expensive. You’ve heard me talk about zapping tolerations.
We believe in straight talk, clean communication. Only the truth makes sense. We encourage open lines of communication, two-way feedback traffic. We enjoy our clients; we champion them, we celebrate their successes.

These are a few of the underlying principles of coaching that I believe will continue to enrich our relationships, no matter what we call the next wave of organizational technology. There will be shelves of books filled with guides to the new leadership paradigms. There will be seminars and on-line courses, keynote speeches and mandated competencies to complete in order to get a positive annual review. (Well, actually I hope reviews as we know them fade away, but that’s another topic.)

You can see that the principles of coaching nestle right up next to those tried-and-true business practices that I witnessed in West Virginia. They also encourage the casting away of fear and fuller development of our potential. No matter how coaching "comes full circle" and is wrapped in new language, I trust that the coaching principles will have proved their worth and continue to enrich business and personal relationships. We’ll see.

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