When I first started coaching, like many people new to the practice, I loved a model or a framework! Maybe more than loving them, in truth I probably relied on them. Having something concrete to hang your conversation on was more for my benefit than for that of the client, but it helped give structure to the sessions and remind me of what to do next.
I liken the experience to learning to drive. As a learner, you go through your pre-start checklist in your head, as though preparing for your driving exam. Ensure your seat is in the right place, get the mirrors in the right place, get your hands in the right place. Start the engine. Mirror, signal manoeuvre. Just like driving, however, as time goes by and our confidence and competence grows, we're able to leave the rigidity of the frameworks behind and focus much more on the content and the relationship. Behind the wheel, I no longer think about mirror, signal, manoeuvre - my thoughts and my eyes are on what's going on outside the car, with the other road users, pedestrians and driving conditions. Much like this, in coaching I'm attentive to the client, listening to what they've said - maybe even what they haven't said - and how they've said it. What does their facial expression tell me? What does their body language draw me to? What am I sensing or feeling in myself and what is that say about the situation? The ebb and flow of a coaching conversation becomes so organic and so immersive that it's easy to think that models and frameworks no longer have a place as you grow. That, of course, is naive.
Any tool is only as good as its usage and any model can be powerful and engaging if used in the right way at the right time. I regularly share models and ideas with my clients as we work, in order that they can develop their own capability and add to their own toolkit, so that when they face challenges or opportunities and we're not working together, they are better equipped to work through this on their own.
One such tool, is a really simple but powerful 4-box matrix which I have used countless times and which is invaluable when you're facing a challenge and feeling a bit stuck. I definitely didn't come up with this one myself - like most of my wisdom, I share it on here as (at least) second hand - and I don't know where I got it from. I've done some extensive (ten seconds worth of) Googling and come up blank, so if you know of the source, I'd love to hear! The matrix looks a little bit like this (no expense spared on yet more high quality graphics!):
To bring it to life, let me give you a scenario. Imagine you're a leader who is dealing with a difficult member of staff. This member of staff is constantly late, has poor productivity and doesn't seem to care about getting better. You're at a loss as to how to proceed, so your coach digs out the tool above. As you can see, there are two axes, the X axis features self and others and the Y axis features past and future. Combining these gives you four boxes, and within each box, you can formulate any number of questions in order to give you some starting points. The boxes are as follows:
Past Self: As the name suggests, we're looking at things we've done ourselves in the past, as inspiration for a way forward. A coach might ask a question like:
When you've overcome challenges like this in your past, what have you done which might be effective here?
Past Others: This involves taking the lived experience of people you know or maybe even those you've read about and mining this to find gems that might help you progress.
Who do you know who has faced similar challenges to this in the past? What did they do which you might like to try?
Future Self: Perhaps you're in new territory and you have no relevant experience to lean on, to overcome this challenge. Where can you look next? Future self questions encourage you to project yourself forward in time and look back at the problem from a point at which it's been resolved. You can use these in a practical way, or maybe in a more 'blue sky thinking' way, depending on the audience, but questions might look like this:
Picture yourself 6 months from now when this problem is solved. What does the situation look like now?
In an ideal world, what would your first step be?
Future Others: The final box, and probably the one I least frequently lean on, involves solving the problem through the eyes of someone else, perhaps someone you really respect but who hasn't solved this specific problem in the past. Your coach might approach it like:
You've told me that you really respected your old manager, Mags. How might she have approached this situation?
We've spoken a lot about your admiration for Ghandi. What might he do in your shoes, right now?
Like most coaching tools, this is very straightforward to use, but its simplicity is its greatest strength. Any of us can pause for a minute or two in the middle of a challenge or crisis, lift our heads up out of the weeds and ask a few questions to get our thinking going. Sometimes it just takes the spark of an idea to help us pull our feet out of the treacle and take the first steps in the right direction. Give it a try the next time you're stuck!