Provision #369: Coaching as Safety Net

Laser Provision

CEO coaching is all the rage when it comes to private industry. But their challenges pale in comparison to those who lead public school systems. Today we interview a school superintendent who has worked with a LifeTrek coach to navigate several transitions and to master the art of leadership. With coaching as her safety net, this client has found the courage to leap forward in both her personal and professional development.

LifeTrek Provision

If any profession is lived in the crucible of public scrutiny and conflict it’s the profession of school superintendent. Perhaps even more than political leaders, educational leaders stand on the front lines of our increasingly strident culture wars. As caretakers of a community’s most valuable resource, its children, educational leaders are watched and scrutinized by a wide variety of stakeholders with differing interests and agendas.

Unfortunately, this is not the only pressure on educational leaders. Education is one of the most under-funded and under-resourced sectors of society. “It will be a great day,” quips the bumper sticker, “when our schools get all the money they need and the Air Force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber.” But that day is long in coming. As it stands, school systems end up piecing together their budgets and staff from year to year, and levy to levy.

No wonder the average tenure of a school superintendent is less than five years! The seat is too hot to sit on for very long. But as the featured client for this Provision has discovered, coaching makes it both more fun and less lonely at the top. By stepping back, assessing strategies, making agreements, and practicing new behaviors, it’s possible to learn how to love both life and work through even the most trying of ordeals.

Q: How did you first learn about LifeTrek Coaching and what prompted you to contact us for coaching?

A: LifeTrek Coaching was recommended to me by one of my academic advisors. He had become familiar with your work through an educational leadership academy. Given that the focus of my doctoral dissertation was on a coaching model for school superintendents, I was naturally interested. After visiting your Web site, and spending about two hours going through the material, it made sense for me to contact you for coaching. There was no way I could research and write about coaching, I reasoned, without being coached.

I wanted my own first-hand experience of coaching, and it quickly became clear that I had plenty to work on. This was no academic exercise! I had just taken a professional leave to finish my dissertation and after finishing it I wanted to secure a position as a school superintendent. Not to mention that I wanted to lose weight, get in shape, and start my retirement planning. Talk about a person in transition! My advisor knew what he was doing when he recommended coaching.

Q: So your original goal for coaching was to navigate a series of transitions?

A: Yes, I started out wanting to appreciate the things that I learned from and experienced in my last position. I saw coaching as a matter of personal integrity, to develop new strategies for self-improvement and professional-growth. I wanted to become a better person, leader, and wife.

While I was still in my last position, and as part of my doctoral classes, I received some assistance from a 360 evaluation. But there was no one to walk me through what the results meant nor how to apply the information. The process left me with a big, “So what? How do we put that into action?”

That’s what I was looking for when I found LifeTrek Coaching. I wanted a partner who could assist me to learn what I needed to learn in order to make sure that I was at the top of my game. I wanted to figure out the “So what?” in order to move on to bigger and better things.

Q: That was several years ago now. Did you learn what you needed to learn? How have things progressed?

A: Well if I didn’t learn any lessons, it certainly wasn’t from a lack of trying. We worked that experience over from many different angles, at the same time as I was finishing my dissertation and applying for new positions. There’s no doubt that LifeTrek coaching played an integral role in assisting me to consolidate my learning and move forward.

I learned how to manage my time better, how to be more specific with myself and others, as well as how to maintain a better balance between life and work. That was a huge thing for me. I go back to our conversations about that all the time. Through coaching, I have learned to recognize both when and how to say, “No”. I can be kind but firm.

Q: How else has the experience of coaching impacted your life?

It was certainly the catalyst for reworking my morning schedule to consistently include reading, reflective journal writing, and exercise. Before coaching I had never done much with journal writing at all, and I had been pretty erratic with exercise. I never used to think I had time for those things! Now I do all three at least 50% of the time. 75% of the time I do my journal writing. And I always take some time, every morning, for reading and reflection.

That morning routine has become a litmus test for how I’m doing. If things aren’t going well at work, or in my personal life, I ask myself “Have I been writing in my journal?” If I open my journal and see that too many days or weeks have gone by without an entry, then I know that I am contributing more than I want to the problem. So I start writing again to get myself back on track.

The coaching conversations also assist me to focus on the things that are important. It’s easy to just react to the many complex problems that come to me as a school superintendent. Knowing that I have a conversation coming up with my coach helps me to be more proactive and to focus on first things first. Also, since I am paying for this out of my own pocket, and that makes me value the process more and take it more seriously.

Q: What internal shifts have you experienced through the coaching process?

I have learned a whole bunch about who I am. My beliefs, my values, how to live them, and how to be more in integrity. I now live with less negative self-talk and less judgments about others. I used to be really hard on myself and I used to respond to others with a lot of “yes, but” statements. Now I am more likely to be empathetic and to accept responsibility, even when others are clearly at fault.

I’ve also made a lot of shifts when it comes to my personal boundaries. I just didn’t get it before and I am still not at the comfort level I would like. But at least I get it now. Because I talk about it with my coach, I hold myself more accountable. If something doesn’t go well, I work with my coach to break things down into smaller parts that are manageable to accomplish. That generates a better product or solution.

Q: What else have you accomplished as a result of coaching?

A: Although I still make mistakes, coaching has assisted me to become a better listener. Sometimes it’s so hard just to shut up and listen! But I do that more now than before. That has grown out of the dynamics of trust in our relationship. Instead of being self-protective, with lots of nervous talking, I am now better able to be a careful listener and to see opportunities for self-improvement.

As the trust in our coaching relationship grew, I was able to incorporate the dynamics of trust in my work as an educational leader and in my personal life as well. I became less anxious about things, and I started spending more time in the “Important not Urgent” quadrant. Do you know how long I tried to do that on my own? I would go to training conferences and read books, but I would always come back to the same situation and fall back into the same behaviors.

LifeTrek coaching has been a safety net, enabling me to try new things on the job without the fear of falling. Knowing that a coaching conversation was available just by picking up the phone has not only given me the impetus for new behavior changes, it has also given me the confidence to experiment and play with strategies I would never have come up with on my own. No matter what happens, I know we can sort things out and recover through the coaching process.

Q: Do you have any other thoughts on how coaching has stretched or pushed you to grow?

A: You have repeatedly assisted me to brainstorm ideas that I would never have come up with, or at least never had the courage to try, on my own. But your encouragement has assisted me to rise above the level of personality to the level of leadership. And there is such a good feeling when I move to that level. It’s a personal triumph that makes me go, “Wow, this is what leadership is all about.”

I thought I was doing it before we started working together, but my actions were, at times, contradicting that. I just was not reflective enough. It is so easy to experience conflicts and challenges in this regard. Working with you has assisted me to get to where I am today. You have been exactly what I asked for and exactly what I’ve needed.

Q; How could coaching have assisted you more?

A: Whenever I sent you something to look at, that I was working on, your comments were fabulous. Sometimes they totally changed what I was going to do. I wish I had done that more. They always helped me tremendously to get over the next hump. You’ve turned me on to several books and taken me through different exercises. But I’ve had this thing about needing to be all knowing and all doing. Even with you, it’s been hard at times to admit I need help with something. If I had forced myself to do that more, it would have forced me to grow more.

Q: What recommendations do you have for someone who is considering working with a coach?

A: No matter whether you would use coaching for a short period or a long term, it will assist you to reach the next level with your goals, a life skill, trying to figure out what you want to do, or to make a transition. It helps the theory become reality. Everyone should do a trial three months or a group or something to see what’s it like. It’s worth the money.

Coaching Inquiries: Do you have a safety net that enables you to take risks? How do you put new learning into practice until it becomes habit? Who could you talk with along the trek of life?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form on the Web for a complimentary coaching session.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob.

I am finding these coaching story Provisions to be most interesting. They show how you have helped people to grow. Keep up the good work!

I like the question and answer format of these Provisions. They show that coaching is really about love. In the past nine weeks I have received a lot of love from family and friends as I have been recuperating from knee surgery. It really has helped me to overcome most of the pain and depression. By their numerous visits, cards, telephone calls and prayers I have been so blessed. The surgeons on my two month visit were ecstatic at my ability to use my knee, saying that it acted and looked like it was four months in the healing process. Isn’t that significant!!! Now that’s the power of love, or should I say coaching?

Over the weekend in a moment of reflection, it occurred to me that I have a tendency toward Life Coaching skill set. What credentials are required to do this? (Ed. Note: Although no credentials are required by law, it is best to secure coach-specific training and mentoring. To learn more, give us a call or contact the International Coach Federation Click). 

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School
Immediate Past President, International Association of
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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