How I Violated Self-Management

I love using pictures instead of words. Not just because of the old adage,

A picture is worth a thousand words


But also, because pictures enable people to convey meaning in psychologically unsafe environments.

If I ask a brand new team of people including their management,

How did that <situation> make you feel?

Some may blurt out “It made me feel angry and afraid”. Although the more likely response in my experience, is not saying anything at all – crickets and radio silence.

What if instead, we asked people to respond visually by each picking a picture that best represents how they felt?

If we did, I could only imagine each person’s narrative behind their chosen picture would be far richer than simply “angry and afraid”.

It was this belief that images trump words that led to my egregious violation of the Co-Active coaching context of self-management.

Self-management is my ability as a coach to set aside personal opinions, preferences, pride, defensiveness, and ego. So that, I can be “over there” with the coachee and not “over here” with my own thoughts, analysis, and judgements.

I had spent a whole weekend preparing a Miro collaboration board that I was going to use to facilitate a Leadership Alignment workshop. I was demoing it to a project manager who I was also coaching at the time on the agile mindset and ways of working. At one point, she commented,

I don’t think using stickers instead of words will work with the leader I’m supporting. He’s not very technical and he is used to working with sentences and documents not pictures on an electronic whiteboard.

Little did I realize at the time that my personal biases kicked into overdrive as I “pulled rank” on her. I retorted that I’ve done this multiple times with leaders just like hers and it will work. She didn’t mention it again. Case closed?

Well guess what? Not only did her leader have trouble with the stickers, so did another leader. It was totally my fault for not heeding that project manager’s concerns.

As I reflect on the error of my coaching ways, here are 5 things I could have done differently with my coachee to honour self-management as her coach.

  1. Be curious and ask more questions. By doing that I may have realized how this case may be different than what I’ve encountered successfully in the past.
  2. Accept that I’m always only partially right. I don’t have a monopoly on rightness. Others may be right as well so I should seek to see how they are right. And when I see that – acknowledge them on how they are right too. And even if it’s after the fact, it’s never a bad thing to apologize and admit to them that you were wrong.
  3. Believe that people have good intentions. Look behind what they are saying to discover what those intentions are.
  4. Be honest with my emotions and feelings. I was angry, sad, and surprised. By sharing my feelings openly, it may have invited my coachee to share her feelings as well. That sharing may have opened both of us to a world of other possibilities for that part of the workshop.
  5. Ask what else can we do? Rather than shutting down the conversation, open it up. By asking for help, it may have given my coachee the license to make what I had created, better.

This isn’t the first time I’ve struggled with self-management as a coach. And it won’t be the last time.

My only hope is that I will realize it much sooner each time so that any future violations remain just a mental thought and don’t make it past my lips.

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