Author Archives: Sandro da Silva

About Sandro da Silva

Sandro da Silva is a Dutch executive, business and life coach who from time to time shares his experiences with coaching in this blog. He starts his days by reading, selecting and tweeting his favorite articles about leadership, management, business, change, diversity, development and start-ups. A different selection of articles, targeted at executives and the C-suite, is posted everyday on his LinkedIn page. He talks to his life coaching audience via his Facebook page. You can read more about him on his website (translation in progress) or contact him by sending an e-mail to info@sandrodasilva.nl.

Client or Coaching?

In my previous article “A Butterfly Goes to a Coach” I tried to make the boundaries between consultancy, mentoring, counseling, coaching and therapy more clear. That article has received a considerable amount of feedback so far, and has triggered some very interesting discussions and good questions.

One of those good questions is whether remaining loyal to such boundaries actually is the best for the Client. Since the Client is paramount in the coaching relationship, shouldn’t we Coaches choose to give the Client what he/she needs if the Client (or the moment) asks us to? Or should we refuse that (explicit or implicit) request and choose to stay within the boundaries of our profession? Which should we choose: the Client or Coaching?

Those of us who decide at certain moments to choose for the Client say that:

  • our ultimate task as Coaches is to help the Client achieve his/her goal. There are times in which assuming a different role – that of a consultant, for example – is more beneficial to the Client and also a more efficient way of accomplishing that ultimate task.
  • more directive approaches from the Coach are legitimate when they are taken with the Client and his/her goal in mind. Therefore, offering explicit advice or telling the Client exactly what to do, solving a problem themselves or providing the answer the Client can’t find, leading the Client to a different perspective or way of thinking are all justified if they seem to be the best for the Client.

Those of us who choose to remain loyal to the boundaries of our profession still agree that the Client is paramount, and that it is our ultimate goal to help the Client achieve his/her goal. However,

  • not only are they committed to the achievement of the Client’s goals, but these coaches also seem to commit themselves to the long term development of the Client;
  • they believe that letting the Client find his/her own answers fosters learning, growth, independence, responsibility, pro-activity, creativity, reliability, constructiveness and trust.
  • they claim that a more non-directive approach still helps the Client achieve his/her goal, and also empowers them with new (or better awakened) skills and confidence to do that again on his/her own.

I myself am part of the second group, because beyond helping my clients achieve their goals, I want to fulfill my Mission. That Mission is to use my talents and help create an environment in which a person can experience warmth, respect, empathy and UPR, challenge and support, so that he/she feels free to express themselves, their needs, doubts, fears, wishes and dreams. An environment which motivates a person to reflect, create, take responsibility and act. I believe such conditions, together with the questions I ask and the feedback I give, foster development and growth, and help people flourish, release their potential and get the most out of themselves.

Choosing for the Client would mean that I am not congruent with my Mission, with my Values, with myself. It would mean that all I say I do and believe is actually a Lie. I don’t mean to say that I am right and that every coach has to do what I do. All I mean is that I can’t do otherwise.

I understand it seems like I choose for Coaching and not for the Client, but deep inside I know I choose for the Client and not for myself.

What about you? To which extent do you identify with this dilemma? How do you deal with it? Your feedback, opinion and experience are welcome.

(I have originally written this article as a guest writer to the Coaching Confidence site)

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A butterfly goes to a coach

Telling someone exactly what the difference is between coaching and the other four helping professions (consulting, mentoring, counseling and therapy) is one of the many challenges I face as a coach.  Doing that in a clear and accessible way has been one of my constant pursuits.

While reading page 11 of Coaching with Colleagues (de Haan & Burger, 2011) today, I felt inspired to write about butterflies that go to the five helping professionals in order to tackle four questions they face.

The four questions are (Witherspoon & White, 1997):

  • the desire to learn new skills,
  • the desire to perform better,
  • the desire to develop itself,
  • the desire to reflect on itself or on what it does.

My attempt to clarify the differences in the approaches of each of these valuable professionals has resulted in a chart with 20 different stereotyped reactions which, in my opinion, exemplify how each professional works and what one could possibly expect from them.

Here they are:

To a butterfly who wants to learn new flying skills, for example hovering in mid-air like a hummingbird,

  1. the consultant saysHere’s the program I have designed so that you can learn how to hover in mid-air like a hummingbird. And here’s the bill.
  2. the mentor saysPay close attention to me, and to what I do with my wings so I can hover in mid-air like a hummingbird. Now it’s your turn to give it a try. No, no, no. Not that way. This way. See it? Now you.
  3. the counselor says: So, what you’re saying is that you want to learn how to hover in mid-air, just like a hummingbird. Is that what you mean?
  4. the coach saysAnd how soon would you like to be flying like a hummingbird? In what ways could you acquire the necessary skills to do it? Who could help you with it? What’s your action plan? When are you going to start?
  5. the therapist saysWe’ve concluded that this is a much more efficient way of doing what you want to learn. By following this guideline, you won’t experience those many difficulties. You’ll learn faster and won’t forget it.
To a butterfly who wants to fly higher, better and more efficiently,
  1. the consultant saysYou can’t fly high enough because you’ve been keeping the angle of your wings at a constant 37,9 degrees. Once you keep it at 42,57 degrees and vary it according to the wind speed, you’ll use less energy and thus fly better, more efficiently and higher. And here’s the bill.
  2. the mentor saysI see you’re trying to fly higher but it does not seem to be working. You’re keeping your lower body too straight, and that does not allow you to react quickly enough to the changing wind. Relax and do not put excessive effort to it. Very good! You see how much easier it gets?
  3. the counselor says:  I can see you’re not fully satisfied with the height you’re flying, and that you’d like to fly higher….
  4. the coach saysHow high exactly would you like to be flying? What techniques are you using at the moment to achieve that height? What other techniques are there, which you haven’t tried yet? And what else could you do to achieve that height even faster? OK. Now show me what your action plan is, how you’re going to measure your progress and what you’ll do when things get tough.
  5. the therapist saysYou can’t fly any higher because of your are afraid of heights. That’s what we call acrophobia. We’ll work on that now and once we’ve treated it, you’ll be able to fly higher.
To a butterfly who wants to take the next step,
  1. the consultant saysOur research shows that the next recommendable step for you should be to create a strategic alliance with bees. That’ll reduce the operational costs of your pollination activities and therefore allow you to survive in this ever changing market. By the way, here’s the bill.
  2. the mentor saysSo. I see you’re ready to take the next step here. I will now introduce you to some guys at the top of our community. Try to be yourself and don’t ask many questions now. Just observe how these guys interact with each other. I’ll tell you more about it while you drive me home tonight.
  3. the counselor saysSo what you’re saying is that you’re ready to take the next step in butterfly-ing. You have reached a plateau and you feel it’s time to take the next step…
  4. the coach saysSo, you want to be a humming bird? Cool! What can you do now to make that happen? And what else? And how are you going to get those things you say you need? How else? When I look at a hummingbird I see feathers, and when I look at you I don’t see any feathers….. (silence)……To which extent are feathers necessary? And how are you going to solve that?
  5. the therapist saysWhat exactly feels uncomfortable in being what you are? How come you’re having difficulties in accepting who you are? Why doing what butterflies do doesn’t satisfy your needs anymore? Can you tell me a little about your relationship with your mother? What kind of person was she?
To a butterfly who wonders whether “butterfly-ing” is all there is, and whether it functions as it should,
  1. the consultant says: Why don’t you buy me a beer so we can talk about it?
  2. the mentor says: Well well….I’ve experienced it myself. But look at how far you have come, how much you have achieved. Look at all those people who depend on you, who look at you for inspiration. There’s no need to be insecure about it. You’re doing great!
  3. the counselor saysIt must be very uncomfortable to be feeling the way you’re feeling, having done all you’ve done, having achieved all you have archived and not knowing whether you’ve done what you should have, or whether this is all there is…
  4. the coach says“Whether this is all there is” and “Do I function as I should?” are two different questions. Which question would you like to focus on today? Suppose you have the answer to that question: how does that feel? What is the effect of having answered it? What has changed?
  5. the therapist saysSince when have you been experiencing those feelings of uncertainty? What has happened to your self-confidence? How come you’re so dissatisfied with yourself? 
If, based on my stereotyped account,  I were to list the characteristics of each helping profession, I would say that:
  • Consulting = downloading information, selling expertise, selling solutions;
  • Mentoring = downloading information, correcting, protecting. It has a lot to do with parenting and teaching;
  • Counseling = accepting and empathizing, recognizing, reflecting;
  • Coaching = uploading information, action-orientation. It seems to foster autonomy, learning and taking responsibility.
  • Therapy = downloading information, digging, diagnosing, inferring , healing. It seems to be problem-focused.

Here I have borrowed one the best definitions of coaching I have ever seen:

“Coaching is uploading.” (Scoular, Anne 2011)

Writing this post has brought me clarity at last. And taking a stereotyped perspective to write it has made me laugh (a lot). I hope you enjoy the light and the fun.


“And…. how do you do that?”

A few days after I’d added my last post “What is it exactly that you do?’, I saw a question in a LinkedIn discussion started by Liz Hall, editor and co-owner of the magazine Coaching at Work. Liz says that “many of us (coaches) find it difficult to be explicit about how we coach”. She then invites the group’s members to describe their style and how they coach to a potential client.

I’ve realized that when people and potential clients show interest in what I do, and want to know more about it, I kind of panic. Because the word coach is used in several situations which have, in my opinion, more to do with consulting and training than coaching itself, I often have to deal with the feeling of disappointment of my audience first. That feeling shows up when they realize that a coach – or at least me – won’t give them the answers they look for or specifically tell them what they should do.

I thought Liz Hall’s question on LinkedIn was a good opportunity for me to reflect upon my way of coaching and how I actually do it. And this is the product of my reflection:

I am a partner, who is willing to accept my clients as a whole. I am on their side, and honored to be invited into their world. During our sessions we’ll be walking side-by-side, and I’ll tell my clients what I see, hear and feel. My curiosity will generate questions in me, which I’ll share with them. I have no hidden agenda, and I don’t try to change the way they think. I don’t tell them what to do.

I take my clients very seriously, and am committed to helping them reach their goals and become independent. We make an agreement to focus and work on certain topics so they can achieve the finish line. That process will ask new things from them, which will sometimes be uncomfortable and unusual. I won’t make use of compliments or motivational talk at such moments, as it does not foster the development of a reflective, independent and self-critical perspective.

The essence of coaching for me is “getting from where you are to where you want to be”. In helping my clients accomplish that, I do not choose to follow a certain method or philosophy. That would mean I have the answers and the solutions to my clients’ challenges – or at least know where to find them. I do not. Nevertheless, a Socratic approach to myself and my role as a coach, and a humanistic approach to my relationship with my clients have shown to accelerate their lasting development and growth. And I also find answers to several of my own questions in Psychology.

I am myself in the process, and I invite my clients to do so as well. Openness, honesty, authenticity, coherence and congruency are part of our sessions. I do not make promises, however inconvenient this choice may be marketing-wise. Research shows coaching works. People who I have coached say it works. But unfortunately I cannot say it will work. To make sure it is working, and that it is not a waste of time and money, I regularly invite my clients to evaluate the process and our alliance. They are also invited to evaluate the sustainability of its effects a few months after the process is finished.

I wonder to which extent this description translates my style to someone who is interested in coaching/being coached.


“What is it exactly that you do?”

What a coach does is difficult to describe to other people. At least in my opinion. Every time someone asks me, “Sandro, what exactly do you do?”, I have to take some time to come up with an answer. That’s because coaching keeps me evolving, changing and growing. It shows me every time that life always comes with surprises when “I think I know what I know”.

There seems to be a need in human beings to keep moving, and at the same time a need to stay where they are. I see life as the climbing of a giant set of stairs: first we experience the need to move to the next tread. After that the need to walk its whole depth, till we are confronted with the next riser, and then move up again.

But sometimes we don’t know whether we’re climbing a riser or walking a tread. Sometimes we don’t know if what we are doing is what we should be doing, if the way we’re climbing is the way we should be climbing. Sometimes we want to keep moving but don’t know where our walk will take us, or where we want to go to. Sometimes we know where we want to be but don’t know what to do to get there. And it is at such moments that people experience the need of hiring me as their coach.

When people hire me as their coach, I interpret it as an invitation to experience their own staircase. My experience has shown me that trying to help them climb it does not help them. Trying to solve their challenge does not solve it. However, sharing my perception of their staircase makes them think. Asking questions about what I see makes them think. Sharing what I see when I look at them try to climb their staircase makes them think. It makes them think in a way they don’t usually do. It makes them reflect.

Reflecting usually leads to awareness. Awareness usually leads to clarity, and then they know it again. They can clearly see where they are, where they want to be, and can come up with a strategy which will take them there. But that’s only the beginning….

On their way from where they are to where they want to be they find obstacles. Obstacles which a) tell them their strategy is not good or b) ask something new from them. Changing the strategy will sometimes be enough to keep them moving, but at encounters like these (between a coach and a client), the second option seems to force its way through. And this is when clients tell me they experience change.

Weird enough, “I have changed but I haven’t changed, Sandro” is what clients tell me. I now understand that clients don’t change because of coaching: they develop themselves. Because they are willing to listen to what life is asking from them and are open to it, they allow hidden or dormant sides of themselves to flourish, to awaken. They experience learning and consequently development and growth. That growth and development are responsible for a new way of experiencing the world around them and also themselves. It’s different compared to what it used to be. That’s the reason why they say they’ve changed, I guess.

Oh, and what do I do? My clients say that I’m a positive catalyst in this development/growth/change process. According to them, I seem to not to be consumed by the process itself but to speed it. And I have the feeling this explanation is right at this moment of my life.

What about you? What exactly do you do as a coach?


Change

I had been a smoker for almost ten years, till a very good friend of mine was diagnosed with lung cancer. Terrible news, almost unbearable.

What’s so funny in such situations is that the person who is probably suffering the most worries about the ones around, tries to ease their pain, and to find ways through which they won’t have to go through what he/she is going through, and that’s what happened to me: this dear friend of mine told me she didn’t want me to die, nor to suffer in the future from a terrible illness. She asked me to quit smoking. And after having smoked one pack a day, for almost ten years, I just quit. Was it difficult? No, not at all. Did I miss it? No, not a second. Weird? No, not then.

It was then 1999. What I called “change” was a habit that seemed innate, almost unconscious. In those years I was able to change like a chameleon: adaptation was my most valuable asset, which undoubtedly has brought me very far and has been responsible for a great deal of my growth and achievements, personally and professionally. I liked change, and still do. I love it (otherwise I wouldn’t be a coach). However, the way it happened then calls my attention now.

According to Wikipedia,

when a person is described as chameleon, the reference to the animal is generally a commentary on the person’s ability to blend into various social situations, often to mean the person has no true values, or that he quickly abandons them in company if it’s convenient to do so.”

As I myself have just used the word chameleon to describe what I used to do, I wonder how much of this definition applies to me, and to what I used to describe as “change”.

My conclusion is that the most valuable thing to me then was to be accepted by others, and not, under any circumstances, be criticized by whomever it might be. Perfection was my goal, and I used the level of acceptance of others in order to measure the level of my own perfection. That meant that my own values, my needs, my preferences, my ideas, my dreams, ME, were disposable, less important. I would never ask myself what I really wanted, what I missed, what I liked or what I longed for. I would, with the snap of a finger, pretend they didn’t exist, or never existed. As a chameleon I would “change”, and I thought it showed the world I was able to change.

Looking back, I can see how naïve I was. Denying my need to smoke, for example, protected me from failing, but didn’t help me succeed. Telling everyone I didn’t miss it showed them I wasn’t weak, but didn’t convince me I was strong. Not having a cigarette showed others I was reliable and trustworthy, but that was only the outside color of the chameleon. All of that belonged to the new ME I had turned into, but not to me. That was a new ME that missed a piece of me.

I’ve been smoking again, for a few months already, and recently I’ve had the feeling I want to quit. Yesterday the chameleon in me said we were finally going to quit, old way. From that moment on, I was not going to smoke anymore. I was not going to think about it. I was not going to talk about it. I was not going to tell anyone I had quit. From that moment on, smoking did not belong to me anymore. I was going to exorcise it. Out of my life. Out of me. Out.

But what I experienced consequently was something new. I realized that if I simply quit I wouldn’t have really changed. I would have again denied myself, who I am, what I want and what I feel. I would have hidden a part of me, and tried to create someone new. I would have repeated a pattern, and something told me this pattern does not help me anymore. Something told me this pattern makes me shrink, instead of making me grow. Something told me that pattern isn’t really what “change” is supposed to be.

And then I freaked out. I didn’t know how else to change. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do otherwise. It felt unsafe, unknown. There was no-one to tell me what to do. No-one to ask me to do it for them… I had no way out. I stood still. And then I heard myself tell myself,

Ok, Sandro. In the past you’d deny who you are and just become someone new. You’d call it “change”. Now, don’t deny yourself. What is exactly the matter? What is it that you are going through now? What are the questions you want to ask? What do you really want to do?

This was my answer:

I want to quit smoking, because I think it is unhealthy. My teeth are becoming yellow and it also affects my breath. My clothes smell bad, and so does my right index finger. I love my lungs, my skin, my teeth, my clothes and my hair. I want them to be healthy, to look beautiful and to smell nice. On the other hand, I enjoy smoking. I enjoy having a cigarette when hanging out at a bar with friends, after a nice meal or at the end of a very busy day. Therefore, it will not be easy to quit. Furthermore, it has become a habit again, and my body will certainly miss the nicotine. Maybe it will help me quit if I tell others I have quit, if I don’t carry my own pack, and if I ask my friends to help me keep up with it, and not to offer me a cigarette when they light one up. In fact, what I really want is not to be a smoker anymore. I want to have a cigarette once in a while, on special occasions, if I feel like it.

And this answer has given me a new understanding of “change”. Change is not “black or white”, not “my way or the highway”. Change is colorful. It is dynamic. If I allow myself to become aware of my feelings, my wants, my needs, my values, and of what I consider important for me, I can better weigh the pros en cons, predict difficulties, SWOT-analyze myself, draw conclusions, create a plan of action (and also a plan B, in case plan A does not seem to work) and act. In this process, the ME that now exists will try to cope with this movement. It will integrate it, digest it, adapt to it and maybe even change it. Consequently, it will grow. It will change, and I will change. This change, however, will have been driven by ME. It will have been motivated by ME. It will have happened in me, because of ME.

Something tells me now that I  am not a chameleon anymore….

Something tells me I have changed…

… Time for a cigarette.


Welcome to The Coaching Blog

Well, here I am. This is The Coaching Blog, and I would like to welcome everybody to it.

This is going to be a blog about me and my experiences with coaching. Here I’ll share what is on my mind, my insights, my questions, my difficulties, and the lessons I have learned so far, and that will be shared with you from a coaching point of view.

What I am going to write here is not THE TRUTH, but only and no more MY TRUTH at the moment, my reality, and the way I see and experience it.

I hope you’ll find it interesting, and I’ll be happy if it makes you stop and think, and maybe better understand yourself, your experiences and your reality. Your point of view, your opinion and your comments will be warmly welcome.

So, as I just said, welcome to my blog.