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What makes for good coaching in the workplace? I remember doing a training session with an Indigenous Elder, Mr. Phil Lane, who told me “the longest journey one will ever undertake is from the head to the heart.” These words have served as my mantra throughout my career. They are so profound in their simplicity and they are at the centre of good coaching in the workplace.
Very few of us will sail through a career unimpeded. Invariably, most of us will encounter a difficult situation in our work life, sometimes of our own making and other times thrust upon us. It takes strength of character and an unwavering belief in oneself to overcome these situations. Hubris should not lead to the false sense that you personally own solutions to all problems. That is indeed why coaching matters.
Phil Lane talked about a journey and a destination: the heart. Coaching is very much a journey, both for the coach and the coached. It starts with establishing a relationship deep in respect and trust. It evolves by recognizing that good coaching does not just teach the skills, techniques and strategies within the narrow confines of resolving an issue. Instead it looks for opportunities where important life lessons can be taught such as mastering hardship, handling and rebounding from setbacks, and emotionally dealing with winning and losing. And it ends by strengthening your heart. For these issues you may face do not reside in intellect, but rather in relationship, values, understanding, beliefs, which are all matters of the heart.
Phil Lane, whose informal lessons where grounded in Indigenous wisdom, was an excellent coach. He had an understanding that I am unique in attitude, personality, response-ability, sensitivity and how I handle adversity. He did not lead me, he guided me through self-discovery. If you were to encounter Mr. Lane and address him as “coach,” it is likely he would not recognize himself as categorized, yet he was, and hopefully still is, a coach.
There are many Phil Lanes in our workplaces; honest, smart, dedicated employees who are willing and ready to help us progress for no other reason than to do good. All you need to do is be quiet inside so that you can listen to the life lessons of workplace coaches that surround you. The more I reflect on my moments of growth, the more I appreciate how I learned more from these nuggets of wisdom from colleagues than I ever learned from books and academia. I am now in the enviable situation of giving back and taking opportunities, as they present themselves, to help others. I am not alone in this endeavor, and I encourage you in your constant stream of consciousness to seek support as you navigate through life’s enduring journeys.
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