Coach's VIEW

Coach's VIEW is a business column authored by executive coaches in COACH A, aimed at providing valuable insights and effective approaches for leveraging coaching to foster organizational and leadership development. The column draws on the latest coaching trends and data, as well as insights from notable global publications on coaching.

The Difficulties and Possibilities of Coaching Transitions

The Difficulties and Possibilities of Coaching Transitions
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"All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us
is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another." - Anatole France

Transitioning from one stage to another can be scary because we do not always know what lies ahead. This fear may stem from the feeling of leaving a part of ourselves behind, as Anatole France once said. As a coach, I have worked with many leaders who have faced similar transitions and challenges.

"I was promoted to a prestigious position, but it turned out to be a position without substantial executive authority."
"I ended up taking a position that seemed to be outside the career path I had hoped for."
"I was recommended as a promising candidate for a position, but in the end, I was not chosen and became a subordinate of my competitor."

Leaders facing these changes often express uncontrollable emotions during coaching sessions.

"I understand it intellectually, but I feel a sense of loss and emptiness every day."
"After not being chosen, I suddenly became very conscious of how others perceive me. I don't want to interact with anyone anymore."
"I feel like I've been ostracized from the organization I thought I had contributed to. I feel anger beyond just regret."

Their feelings of loss, anger, powerlessness and numbness resonate with me, and my heart aches for them. When roles or positions change, the transition is not as simple as flipping an Othello piece from white to black. It takes time to accept the new role or position and become capable of fulfilling the expectations associated with it. This process of change is called "transition." This time, I would like to explore the challenges and possibilities of coaching clients in transition.

The "Neutral Zone" of Ambiguous Situations

Steve, one of my executive clients, worked eagerly for a year as a strong candidate for the president. Although he felt confident as one of the final few, he was ultimately not chosen.

"I accept the result, and it's natural that someone more experienced was chosen instead of me," he calmly said. However, as time passed, he became increasingly depressed and eventually began avoiding people. "To be honest, I lost faith in internal politics during this process. I'm starting to consider leaving the company."

Despite his usual calm demeanor, his words conveyed anger and disappointment. During times of change, people experience emotions like sadness, guilt, anger, numbness, and powerlessness (*1). These emotions stem from the belief that taking action can no longer have a positive effect, due to the realization that something has been permanently lost as a result of the change. As a coach, how can we support clients who experience such emotions?

The Impact of a Client's State on the Coach

The transition period can be viewed as the following phases;

End -> Neutral Zone -> Beginning

However, these three boundaries are ambiguous, and psychological adjustment to external changes may take time. Even if we feel the need to let go of something old and something has come to an end, our emotions may not catch up with the external changes. In the neutral zone, we may experience phenomena such as loss of energy, tendency to withdraw, and increased susceptibility to illness or accidents. In fact, Steve suffered from sleep deprivation and even had an unexplained illness that required hospitalization. The neutral zone is a time of ambiguity, and people are often driven by the urge to move on to the next beginning because they can no longer tolerate the ambiguity. Indeed, I felt that he was in a hurry to resign. Steve's suffering also had a significant impact on me as a coach.

Being Together in an Uncertain and Anxious Place

I have a mentor coach who supports me in my coaching practice. In one of our sessions, I shared with my mentor coach the complex and heavy uncomfortable emotions I was experiencing in coaching Steve. He then asked me, "How can I be with you?" We began exploring together where those emotions were coming from and what underlying assumptions were contributing to them. He encouraged me to stay with the uncomfortable emotions and continue exploring them, rather than trying to resolve them. Through this process, I discovered that as a coach, I was feeling anxious about the uncertainty of my client's situation and had the urge to help him move out of the neutral zone as quickly as possible.

At that moment, I realized that my job was not to help Steve move out of the discomfort, but rather to help him rediscover himself in the midst of it. My role was to be with him in that uncertain and anxious place, to support him in exploring his emotions and finding his own way forward.

Here is one quote;

" If a patient learns to dwell in the midst of pain, their relationship with the pain will change dramatically. By accepting the pain, their consciousness will shift, and the pain will become just a sensation, not 'pain' anymore. Even if it's uncomfortable, by not getting caught up in it or trying to push it away, it can be accepted as it is within our consciousness." (※2)

The Transition That Began Quietly

I found the conversation with Steve during our collaborative exploration to be thought-provoking.

"I realized during our conversation that I had been thinking, 'Why am I not the top person here?' 'That's probably your pride from your past self, right? It might come from a lack of confidence in your ability to be recognized outside.' "

Steve said he was surprised that he was talking about something he "absolutely did not want to mention" before. A few months later, his transition quietly "began." He decided to stay with the company, verbalized his role, and brought it to coaching sessions.

"In the midst of profound confusion, we can discover our role in fulfilling what the world needs. And once we understand what we need to do, we can act quickly." - Peter Senge(※2)

Coaching someone through their transition involves staying with them through the discomfort and continuing the dialogue, using the experience as a resource. It involves maintaining a sense of suspension in the midst of deep confusion, waiting for the transition to "begin" on its own. The difficulty and potential of coaching someone through their transition may lie in this process.

*1 "Coaching Skills: The definitive guide to being a coach" by Jenny Rogers, translated by Tsurumi Juri and Tokunaga Shoichi, published by JMAM Management Center, 2022

*2 "Presence: An Exploration of Profound Change in People, Organizations, and Society”
by Peter M. Senge, C. Otto Scharmer, Joseph Jaworski, and Betty Sue Flowers,
supervised by Ikujiro Nonaka and translated by Yuko Takatoh, published by Kodansha, 2006

*Regardless of profit, non-profit or intranet, secondary use such as copying, diversion, selling etc. is prohibited without permission.

Language: Japanese

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