One of the common terms used by coaches is “Aha” moment. Well, as coaches, have we ever figured out what do these “Aha” moments of our coachees look, sound, or even feel like?
As a coach, I witnessed this “Aha” moment when my coachee:
♦ had long silent moment before they continued to speak
♦ had emotional break down
♦ sparkling eyes
♦ rolling eyes movement between left and right, sometimes top and bottom
♦ blank for a long while, before they continued to speak
♦ both eyes looking far and beyond
♦ jumped up unexpectedly
♦ shouted out loud (and, at times, coupled with a loud “YES”!)
♦ slapped the face and said, “oh!”
♦ had a long sigh
♦ and the list goes on …..
Prof. John Kotter places great emphasis on Step 1 of his renowned 8-Step Change Process, which is Create Sense of Urgency. It is something cannot be achieved if we focus solely on the head, and not the heart. All of us experience different feelings while we undergo change, i.e. fearful, confused, excited, angry, uncertain, …etc. These feelings are energy of different forms and intensity. Along the way, when there is a change of energy while the feeling shifts or changes, “aha’ moment takes place, and turns into actions. I equate “Create Sense of Urgency” to “Create Aha Moment” in Coaching, as I see it as a moment of shift of energy, which translates into immediate actions. Taking another Change Leadership Principle by Prof. John Kotter, moving from the “Have to” to the “Want to”.
If so, what meaning does it serve for us as a coach then? It complements from just coaching our coachee to find solution from content perspective, but, coaching our coachee to have a shift in their energy. It extends the focus of the coach from just listening to the content, to observing the energy of the coachee shown by their body language. It gives no ground for coach to judge the right or wrong, but paying attention to the coachee’s energy which is neutral.
That switch of energy is well expressed and witnessed by the different ways the coachees utter the word, “Aha”.
1.”Why me?” vs. “What do I own now?”
“Why me?” is not a question, it is a blaming statement disguises as a truthful judge. It is a self support mechanism which helps us to feel comfortable for a while, for not owning the situation. However, prolonged and repeated question of “why me?” forms a thinking and habitual pattern for us to escape, rather than facing the situation with our authentic self. It spirals inwards further and deeper, hence, makes “falling up” more challenging.
“What do I own now?” opens up possibilities and resources for us to own the situation. It steers our thinking and emotion towards the resource we possess, thus, lit up the light at the end of the tunnel. Another asset of this question is we take back the ownership of the circumstance, and put ourselves be in charge of the situation.
2. “How should I get out of it?” vs. “What emotions am I experiencing now?”
Intense emotions we experience while we are facing challenges are a form of energy, if use it wisely with awareness, it helps us to transform into a powerful resource. The critical line between going forward or moving backwards from it is “ACCEPTANCE”.
Be Aware, Acknowledge , and Accept are the 3 main ingredients needed in the “to be” list when we are experiencing devastating mental state during hard time. Instead of reacting like a strategist to find ways out from the situation and ask “How should I get out of it?”, it will be self-healing if we allow ourselves to touch and accept that feelings. Hence, asking ourselves “What emotions am I experiencing now? acts as the first step for us to make peace with this emotion of us, which we are uncomfortable with at the moment. Continuous exploration of our feelings leads way for us to make peace with it and accept it as part of us.
3. “Who makes me so?” vs. “Who could I talk to?”
Rectifying and putting the suspect on our mental trial expands our negative emotions, serving a self fulfilling prophecy of perceived “justice”. But, as we go through this mental search of the perceived “suspect” who contributed to our suffering situation now, it uses up large amount of energy in us, hence, diverts our attention and effort to seek resources which could help us to spiral up from the challenging situation.
Our brain can process only 40 bits of information per second despite a deluge of 11 million pieces of information coming from all our nerve endings. What our brain gives attention to will become our reality.
As such, instead of asking “Who makes me so?”, let’s switch the question to “Who could I talk to?”. Imagine, by doing so, every second, we are putting the 40 bits of information which squeezes through our nerve endings into quality resources to help us manage adversity.
4. “What’s the negative impact of it?” vs. “What areas have this situation impacted?”
We are all good generalist, scoring distinction for generalizing almost everything we come into contact. We do so even more when we are under acute pressure during hard times. The moment the thought process begins by scanning ALL the negative impacts we witness, we immediately conclude we are in a complete disastrous position.
In order for us to counter our default thinking process, instead of “What’s the negative impact of it?”, let’s try this question, “What areas have this situation impacted?”. Of course, it will be additional mileage for us, should we ask the subsequent question of “What areas then have the situation impacted positively?”.
5. “What have I lost?” vs. “What have I gained?”
Post traumatic growth (PTG) suggests set backs as spring board for growth. We may have lost a great fortune in the troubling state, but, never undermine the gain we inherit from the process.
A little story, or rather, secret of mine, happened many years ago.
As we were planning for our annual sales and business plan, I was challenged as the Head of Business Development by a vocal sales manager to drop the “conventional way” (according to her) of setting individual target for each sales manager.
She said, in a confident and committed way, “I feel our teamwork is at the peak now after all the challenges we have been through together the past 2 years. And, I could feel we are such a cohesive team, who are committed to make this company grow further from where we are now. I think it is timely for us to only focus on one sales target, and all of us work together towards that one laser-focused company sales goal”.
I agreed fully with what she said about the teamwork we had. I also felt she and other sales managers were sincere and committed. But, the truth was, her proposal was something I never tried before.
And, another truth was, I was fearful and uncertain, supported by an extremely loud voice drumming in my ear, which said, “what if there were no accountability and clarity, if we drop the individual target”.
At that moment, I decided to let her and the team lead, and we focused the rest of our business planning session on co-creating plans to make this work. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I have ever made as a leader.
We achieved TOGETHER as a TEAM, not only the set company sales target, but, 2 times more than what was planned.Thanks to this bold and courageous voice which allows me to be a leader, a leader who experiences trust, support, and playing a role called “follower”.
A few supporting mindset for a leader to allow the followers to lead:
1. Be clear and conscious of our INTENTION
2. Be ready to TAKE RISKS, failures, or, mistakes
3. With the switch of roles, RE-DEFINE and CO-CREATE the roles and responsibilities we play as a team to achieve our goals
4. Follow through by adopting HELICOPTER LEADERSHIP. Elevate our role to be a culture builder, not a culture buster. For example, look and affirm for the good, recognize excellence and ask questions.
One of the NO-NOs is inconsistency of the ownership and accountability. From my little experience shared above, the real test for me as leader came after that when we executed our business plans. We had lots of small wins before achieving our goals, but, at the same time, there were moments when we were faced with challenges. These were the moments which I had fear, mis-trust, uncertainties, frustrations, doubts…. etc.
My “aha” moment during difficult times like this were, “These feelings are real, and it is difficult. But, these are not challenges caused by others, the team, or even the external factors. These are feelings within me, for me to face it, and embrace it, as I elevate to the next level of leadership”
This is my life long leadership lesson, which I still keep it with me till today.
As a coach, (or, shall I say a fanatic coach?) especially when I was first certified as a coach 20 years ago, I coached everywhere and every moment. It may not be a full complete coaching session every time but, the skillset and mindset of a coach, is always something I hold very closely to my heart.
When my girl was just a toddler, I used scale question to help me get clarity.
When she was in pain, and unable to verbalise the severity of it at her age, I asked her to show me by her hand gesture.
Closing both palms together means no pain at all.
Opening up both her hands wide to the maximum means very pain, that I need to send her to hospital immediately.
And, in between are the different levels of pain.
We had been communicated like this for a while, and it helped both of us so much in finding a solution if we needed a quick assessment of the situation.
There came a night, she wanted something so much, and was abruptly turned down by the father. Her face turned red as she pulled her hair, she started to cry.
As a mother, it was such a struggle for me to see her in such state. Another emotional struggle I had was the anger in me of the dad, whom I “analysed” and “judged” him in mis-handling the situation. My first instinct was to go to my baby girl, calmed her down, and gave her all the comfort I could.
But, that night, I did something different.
I went to her, gently hold her hands, and asked her softly,
“Show me with you hand gesture, closing both palms together means you are not angry. And opening up both of your hands means very angry, where are you now?”
Without any hesitation, she swiftly opened and stretched both of her hands wide. Interesting, she took a pause after that, looked at both of her hands, puzzled and seemed not satisfied, as if it was incomplete.
It was then swiftly followed by A FEW HUGE, QUICK and FIERCE TURNS.
As she was doing her MAD-Go-Round, I smiled and whispered in my heart….
“Let’s celebrate this MAD-go-round ride moment!”
• for the authenticity, truthfulness, and courage in her to express her anger in such a free, bold and candid way
• for her breakthrough to find her own language to express her feelings, and own her story, her way!
• for this beautiful moment, which both of us are connected with a common lingo we speak.
The heart of the story
I fully love and subscribe to how Brené Brown defines COURAGE,
“Courage is a HEART word. The root of the word courage is cor—the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant ‘To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.’ Over time, this definition has changed, and today, we typically associate courage with heroic and brave deeds. But in my opinion, this definition fails to recognize the inner strength and level of commitment required for us to actually speak honestly and openly about who we are and about our experiences—good and bad. Speaking from our hearts is what I think of as ‘ordinary courage.’”
Not all rides in life are on merry-go-round with joyful and pleasant feelings. When someone’s HEART is at a space of bad experiences, and wish to take a MAD-Go-Round ride,
• Do we give them a ticket, and time to take that ride?
Establishing a common lingo is important. It is a lingo we develop and speak often when our emotions are not challenged. It is like regularly taking the same route through the bushes, until it forms a walking path, getting ready and visibly there when we need to run.
Another important factor is time. Imagine a child who enjoys her merry-go-round ride so much that he keeps pleading for another ride. Likewise, with MAD-go-round, it takes time for someone to own and share their experiences.
• How are we supporting them as they are taking that ride?
Listen! Listen! Listen!
• How do we develop a safe space mind space for them to take that ride?
No judgement, accept them fully as a person.
Another quote by Brené Brown, “The MIDDLE is messy, but it’s also where the MAGIC happens.”
And, my extension to Brené Brown’s quote above,
Be the one who TAKE them to the MIDDLE, BE with them in the MIDDLE, and CELEBRATE the MAGICAL MOMENT TOGETHER!
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