This is a point I stress when I teach The Art of Self-Coaching at Stanford, but I want to make it even more explicit here, both to better prepare my students for their experience in the course and to clarify my terminology for others who've expressed interest in the concept:
Self-coaching is not a solitary process but a highly social one.
Self-coaching is a self-directed process, in that we're taking active responsibility for guiding our own growth and development, but other people play extremely important roles in this process at every step.
There is certainly value to gained from solitary activities such as journaling, reflection, and an ongoing dialogue with ourselves on matters large (e.g. What should I do with my life?) and small (e.g. What am I feeling at this moment?). And it's essential to cultivate the ability to engage in these practices more effectively and to build routines that support them into our lives.
Students in my course do an extensive amount of solitary work outside of class. Each week they read the materials on the syllabus, reflect on the meanings and implications of these materials, and complete a written assignment. It's my hope that this experience will help them determine how best to continue these activities in their career after business school, when they'll be responsible for creating their own "syllabus" and for determining how to reflect upon and write about those materials without anyone's input or oversight. (This is why the content of these weekly assignments is determined by each student as an individual, beyond the constraint of looking ahead to the upcoming class.)
But these solitary activities are just one aspect of a self-coaching process that also involves meaningful relationships with others. A dilemma that many of us encounter when seeking support is that even well-meaning allies can respond in ways that we find unhelpful. Frequently this takes one of three forms: My problem's worse... or Look on the bright side... or Here's some advice... This isn't to say that shared experiences, encouragement and advice are never useful, but they can convey counterproductive meta-messages, even when unintended: You don't have it so bad, so stop complaining... or If you were smarter, maybe you would have figured this out on your own... The solution is to employ coaching tools and techniques that enable us to have more effective helping conversations.
Thus the classroom experience in my course is highly social and interactive, not solitary, and each week my students work with classmates in pairs and small groups. In addition to preparing them for the solitary work noted above, it's my hope that this experience helps them better understand how to develop and sustain relationships in which they can build trust, discuss meaningful issues of importance to them, and offer and receive coaching support. Note that these conversations are intentionally brief, ranging from 10 to 20 minutes, and my goal here is to replicate real-world conditions, when my students will often face significant time constraints in their working relationships. While more extensive unconstrained conversations always have a role to play, being able to address a significant topic quickly and economically is a valuable skill.
Given all this, I don't make a sharp distinction between self-coaching and coaching conversations with others, because the former necessarily involves the latter. My course does not provide in-depth coaching training, but a basic understanding of coaching tools and skills allows students to get more out of the conversations they'll have with classmates. This is why I offer some brief instruction on how to coach others at the very beginning of the course and include some of the resources below on our syllabus.
Resources on Coaching and Being Coached
- How Great Coaches Ask, Listen, and Empathize (Ed Batista, Harvard Business Review, 2012)
- Helping: How to Give, Offer, and Receive Help (Edgar Schein, 2009)
- Chapter 3, pages 30-47: “The Inequalities and Ambiguities of the Helping Relationship”
- Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling (Edgar Schein, 2013)
- Chapter 3, pages 39-50: "Differentiating Humble Inquiry from Other Kinds of Inquiry"
- Scott Ginsberg on Asking (Better) Questions (Ed Batista, 2008)
- Hammering Screws (Bad Coaching) (Ed Batista, 2011)
- The HBR Guide to Coaching Employees (2nd edition, 2015)
- A Challenge to Leaders: Help Others Self-Coach (Ed Batista, 2013)
- Coaching, Advice, and Feedback (Ed Batista, 2011)
- Coaching Your Employees (HBR Webinar Video and Summary) (Ed Batista, 2014)
- Coaching and Feedback Tools for Leaders
Resources on Reflection and Journaling
- The Value of Journal Writing (Ed Batista, 2008)
- How to Think (More on Open Space and Deep Work) (Ed Batista, 2017)
- Conversations with Ourselves (Self-Coaching and Self-Engagement) (Ed Batista, 2012)
- Reflecting on Work Improves Job Performance (Carmen Nobel, Harvard Business School Working Knowledge, 2014)
- Why You Should Make Time for Self-Reflection (Even If You Hate Doing It) (Jennifer Porter, Harvard Business Review, 2017)
- Does Journaling Boost Your Well-Being? (Pelin Kesebir, Center for Healthy Minds, University of Wisconsin, 2017)
Photo by Heinrich Böll-Stiftung. Yay Flickr and Creative Commons.