Whilst our soon-to-be-departed Prime Minster hasn't shone as a leader, this week we're having a theoretic discussion about how executive coaching might help her to plan for her future. This quick-listen uses Liz Truss as an example but is really relevant to anyone wanting to re-focus and plan for a future after leadership.
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I thought this week I'd try and be a little topical - to take something out of recent news and show how, as an executive coach, that might be relevant to the kind of work I could do for a leader who perhaps needed some help.
If I was an executive coach for Liz Truss, the current, soon-to-be former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, what would be the things that would be going through my mind to help her at what is now clearly a very difficult time?
Well, the first thing that would become apparent to me was whether or not she was going to be receptive to any kind of help. At this point, she's probably suffering from extreme levels of emotions, whether it's fear, embarrassment, shame, or disappointment, and she's more than likely worried about the future, and exactly what's going to happen next, whilst at the same time trying to stay in control of a very important job of keeping the country safe, secure, and being led. So, determining whether or not she's really receptive to help would be my starting point.
I'd be asking her a number of open questions about how are you feeling. What's important to you? What are you focusing on, and so on to see how receptive and open-minded she is about the assumption that that was going now?
The real point of help now is to focus her mind away from the present. Start to think about the future. What's happened now and what's happened in the immediate past is exactly that past, and she needs to be thinking about what her future's going to be and the person that's gonna create that future. It's fundamentally her, and so whilst this is not going to be something that's going to get done in one single conversation, it's not a therapy session and it's happened overnight, starting to move her focus away from the disappointment, the awkwardness of the current moment, and to think about perhaps the things that really matter to her long term, the things that really matter to her for the future is where happiness, prosperity, success really lies.
As a coach, the first challenge is to begin to ask the kind of questions that are going to provoke that kind of thought process. So questions such as, what are the things you really enjoy doing in your career, in your profession? What are the things that energise you? What are the sorts of things you take great pride in? What are the sorts of things that you believe you are really talented and skilled at? Well, ultimately that'll lead to questions like are they the sorts of things that you believe add value and create satisfaction and enjoyment for you?
Once you begin to collate that sort of list of issues and opportunities, you can begin to focus your mind on what's going to happen to help you bring those things more into your life going forward. Yes, there's a moment now where you've got to get through this transition. You've got to get through this difficult period of the party, finding a new leader, the country, finding a new leader, and then you passing over and then moving off into whatever situation's going to be left for you. But once that's through - more quickly than most people would appreciate - what are you going to focus on now?
It's not necessarily important to make these decisions really quickly. What is important is that time is being given to focus is being given to the areas that she really does want to work in, in the longer term. Some of the questions that you might be asking her as a coach are, what are the things that really matter to you at the end of your career looking back?
As you start to shape them up with the coachee, you can start to talk about how do you make that happen. Then 'what's the route from there to here? Is it continuing in the same profession? Is it retraining? Is it completely removing yourself from the current situation? Reinventing yourself?
What is the route that you want to take to get to where you want to be? And then as that unfolds, you can talk about perhaps some of the smallest steps. What are you gonna do next month? What are you gonna do between now and Christmas? What happens in 2023?
You can start to help Liz find her path forward and set herself attainable, achievable, realistic goals of things that can be done to move her forward, Things that can be achieved and notched up as progress as success. What this ultimately boils down to is the coach helping the coachee regain their own personal self-confidence to regain their own self-worth and sense of value.
Because ultimately, as a coach, you don't have any of the answers. You only have the questions. And ultimately your role is to support the person you're working with, not to lead them. And therefore they can only really achieve these things when they feel comfortable and confident to do so. And by rebuilding their focus, by getting to think forward, not back beginning, to get them to get a real sense of priority.
What is important? Where can you add value begins to give a whole new perspective on their circumstances and on their situation. Now, this has got nothing whatsoever to do with any form of judgment I may have on that person's ability, that person's integrity, their politics - that's irrelevant and actually it's a distraction. As an executive coach, you are being paid, you're not there as any form of score-keeper, any form of tutor that's teaching them in any way to be better than they already are. What you're doing is helping them to work that out entirely for themselves. By doing that, it will self-propel by giving them the ownership of what they're going to do means it'll get done and it's not reliant on you.
It becomes entirely self-determined. And so coming back to this example using Liz Truss, there are parallels here to senior executives and businesses and business owners when the job that they've always wanted has suddenly been taken away. They've been made redundant - It's been taken away. Their business has failed or gone into administration or it's been bought. Suddenly everything that they valued, all of their touchstones, all of the things that they thought were solid are not. And so as an executive coach, you can help them come to terms with this change of circumstance and see it for what it is a moment in time.
And there are many more moments to come, and the shape of their moments, the shape of their future are entirely in their hands, provided they embrace it with that kind of thought process now.
Again, as I say, it's not a matter of rushing through this process to get to any kind of conclusion and just action is more important than anything else. Whilst that has some merit, the reality is the next steps are important. Getting the next steps, the confidence and building on that, and returning to being a success in your own mind. That takes time because there is a solid foundation. There is a solid future. There is the ability to look the world right in the eye.
So if I were coaching Liz Truss at this moment in time, I wouldn't be looking backwards with her. I'd be helping her think about the future. And I wouldn't be reflecting on what went wrong. I wouldn't be trying to learn the lessons of the past. I'd be saying, What really matters to you? Where do you want to be in five years from now, 10 years from now?
And this isn't about revenge, This isn't about settling scores. This isn't about proving everybody wrong. This is about what matters to you. What are you going to value when you look back and say, I learned from that, and look what I achieved? What would that be? What, what sorts of things, And just simply spending a couple of hours in your company on that kind of conversation.
It's an incredibly positive experience. It's an incredibly valuable, uplifting development for that person. And as an executive coach, you've done an enormous service for them in what is a relatively serious moment in their life. So there we have it. If I was, and I'm not, and I never will be coaching an ex-prime minister, these are the sorts of things, These are the sorts of ways I'd be going about that.
*Transcribed on 20th October 2022*
That was the latest edition of The Coaching Conversation. I hope you found it interesting. I hope you found it useful. You can find out more about our coaching programmes at theexecutivemindset.co.uk
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