The context for my example was the final celebration event of a 9 month career development programme for UK Government Policy professionals. This programme consisted of a blend of development centre assessed activities culminating in the creation of a personal development plan, a series of workshops on core policy development and leadership skills, one-to-one coaching support and action learning. I am the programme facilitator and coach and lead on programme design.
The penultimate leaning intervention is the last of three/four 1:1 coaching sessions that participants receive during the course of the programme. It usually takes place 3-4 weeks before the Final Event
Key coaching objectives/Intervention
Participants always set their own objectives for each coaching session and for this final session, many of them wish to reflect on how they have grown during the programme. To facilitate this theme, I decided to use Gillian’s poem ‘Unsent’ (page 191) and the accompanying visual as a tool for the client to reflect on the parallels between their milestones and that described in Gillian’s postscript.
I introduced the poem and the painting within the coaching session, gave the client time to absorb and respond to both, then asked the clients to consider the answers to a few questions before the Final Event took place:
If I were to write a letter of motivation to myself that would arrive on the day of the Launch Event 9 month’s earlier, what would it say?
How could I keep these words in mind as I completed the programme (and beyond?)
How could I be a better friend to myself now and in the future?
What visual/auditory/kinaesthetic metaphor might they use to symbolize their experience of these insights?
I gave the client a template to capture answers to these questions and bring to the Final Event.
The event was also attended by participants line managers and senior Policy Staff. Participants are asked to come prepared to deliver a presentation on how they have developed during the programme. The presentation brief emphasizes growth in capabilities, career progression, promotion and personal development. In the past these presentations usually focused on information designed to impress the audience, but the effect of the ‘Unsent’ activity added a richer, more in depth component to the personal development content of the presentation. In the final section of the day, when the senior staff had departed, I facilitated a Paired Activity, in which participants shared their answers to the questions above and their own ‘metaphors’ for their experience.
Client’s had strong emotional responses to the both the poem and the picture when it was first introduced in the coaching session. The contextual story behind how and why Gillian had created these pieces added value for some clients, giving them an explicit link to their own experience. For others, the examples themselves were all that were required to stimulate reflections about their Beliefs, Values & Identity (Robert Dilt’s Logical Levels), and how these might have strengthened or changed during the course of the development programme.
Reflections on Specific Example - Although the Final Event had always included a self - reflective element, I previously felt that this component was secondary to the client’s preoccupation with demonstrating to others how much they had achieved, and how the organization had benefitted from this growth. The addition of this simple metaphor based activity triggered a higher level of learning for the participants about who they are as they step out into new challenges and what internal and external resources/support they can use to support themselves on their journeys. The poetry/picture format was a much powerful and instant stimulus than a series of questions, no matter how well phrased they might be.
I had also noted that when I first came across ‘Unsent’ in COBV, it was the words of the poem that provoked the biggest reaction for me, whereas, for this example, the painting had less impact on me. I was reminded of workshops where participants selected different visual metaphors to describe the same feeling. This prompted me to offer clients choice over the metaphor they might use. During the final event, some had stuck with the original picture, whilst others had picked different ones, or a piece of music, video, or a tangible object.
Wider Ripples - As an executive coach, I often work with private clients, where I feel that I have complete control over how creative I can be with coaching methodologies and tools for self-insight. However, the example I have shared was in the context of a corporate development programme where I now recognize that I have often been self-limiting on how much ‘creativity’ I believe this Government Client can tolerate.
The positive client reaction to ‘Unsent’ has transformed my thoughts about the design of this programme. I am about to launch the next two cohorts of this programme and I am introducing selected activities from COBV for group Launch, Mid-Programme and Final Event. For example, the poem ‘Play’ and its Inkblot picture (p. 194-5) will feature at the launch event as a metaphor for managing expectations and dealing with surprise…
On a wider note, I regularly present/share expertise at regional coaching network meetings in the UK, including Association for Coaching Co-Coaching Meetings, Coaching Associate Networks and the occasional EMCC 5 Day Accreditation Challenge. I often share expertise on NLP based interventions that add value in the coaching context and more recently I have shared my experiences of working on Clean Language, Metaphors and Symbolic Modelling in the Coaching Context, drawing from the work of James Lawley, Penny Tompkins and Marian Way.
Although my interest in these topics pre-dated my discovery of Gillian’s Book and Cards, it delighted me to find such a rich repository of artistic activity to draw from for adding richness to the client experience. With Gillian’s permission, I’d like to share my experiences of using her work when I am asked to speak at coaching network meetings (my next is in September and October 2022). I have also agreed to join a group of coaches, therapists and educationalists to ‘play’ with activities from Gillian’s second book, offering feedback on my insights.
Gillian’s work has been inspirational for me as a model of how to be your unique self. Both the examples and the postscripts model the power of bringing one’s unabridged story to a body of work, whilst never forgetting that the book’s primary function is to support others to ‘connect with their Brave Voices’. The book seeks to support anyone on a journey of self- discovery – and this includes those of us in the coaching community. It has presented me with a tangible body of insightful and transformative activities that I can adapt and share with my clients in both one to one and group coaching contexts. It has also reinvigorated my motivation to creatively live my unique self through my coaching practice.