I like Bill Critchley’s story of coaching a senior government official with whom, after a few sessions, he felt he was making little impact. He admits to feeling inadequate, and increasingly anxious that he wasn’t living up to his coachee’s expectations. The problem centered around everything Mr Critchley coming up with being something his coachee had already thought of. But the turning point was when his coachee said, “You know, I don’t know why people think I’m intimidating; I think I listen rather better than most people” giving this very experienced coach the opportunity he’d been hoping for:
“Yes, you are a very skilled listener, as indeed you are a very persuasive talker. But let me tell you how I experience you; either way, whether you are listening or persuading, you are so skilful, that I feel I have absolutely no impact on you. I do not feel I can influence you, surprise you, offer you anything new at all, because you appear to already know or have anticipated anything I say.”
Mr Critchley acknowledged that in that moment he was being courageous, he took a risk – the dynamics of his relationship with his coachee could have gone either way – failure or success, good or bad. And his coachee was surprised by his coach’s comment … so surprised that he asked him to explain it further, and this opened the door to the pair being able to explore the coachee’s relationship with his team, and his development as a leader (for despite his seniority, it seemed he still had something to learn).
A reminder, perhaps, of the courage it takes to give honest feedback … and of the success that can happen in doing so?