• Andrew Blench

Shiny on the inside?

In a recent conversation with a coaching client the client showed me a photo of a Paua Shell. I had never seen one before and was struck by its beauty, the blend of colours and its pearlescent qualities. For me it also represented movement and the surface looked like it contained the ripples of stream or sea water.

The Paua is part of a family of sea snails that are referred to as abalone. It is found in New Zealand and to the Maori is referred to as taonga or treasure. It is a rich source of materials for different carvings, jewellery, and crafts. Maori have used the shells as personal ornaments or inlays for carvings for centuries. Often the Paua shells are used for eyes in ritual carvings. In Maori legend the eyes are representative of the stars, symbolic for their ancestors who gaze down upon them.

The myths, legends and stories from Maori culture talk about the Paua shell. Legend has it that in the days of old the Paua had no shell. Tangaroa, the god of the sea, saw how difficult this made things for the Paua so decided to make him something special. Tangaroa said that he would take the coolest blue colours from his domain, Tane the god of the forests contributed the freshest greens from the forest. The dawn would contribute violet and the sunset reds and pinks. Overall their would be a shimmer of pearl. Tangaroa fashioned a beautiful coat with these colours for Paua. This pleased Paua but unfortunately other sea creatures, through curiosity or simple envy, broke his fragile shell. When Tangaroa saw this he strengthened the shell with many more layers of the beautiful colours and wrapped the shell with a tough textured outer covering. This outer covering was brown and grey in colour to give it camouflage at the bottom of the ocean.

Tangaroa then instructed Paua to continue to add layer upon layer of colour of different colours on his shell throughout his lifetime. The Paua holds the secret of his shiny shell until its death. His inner beauty is only revealed when it is washed ashore at the end of its life journey.

This legend simply blew my mind. Not only am I struck by the beaty of this shell but the power of the legend. As a personal and business coach I see so many parallels in the legend with life in general and the coaching relationship.

The Paua has a hidden beauty, in its beautiful shell, which is not revealed until its death. When we see the Paua in its natural habitat there is nothing to draw our attention to it. In fact you could say that it looks quite plain. It what I call ‘shiny on the inside’!

Shiny on the inside

As a coach I work with the strong conviction that we all hold amazing potential as human beings . Sadly for various reasons we learn to hide or bury this potential under a strong camouflage, perhaps in an effort to protect ourselves from damage. The damage being the criticism or perceived rejection of others if we were to truly live with our true colours on display.

Eric Berne, the founder of Transactional Analysis Theory, stated that ‘we are all born princes and it is the civilising process which turns us into frogs’.

What I think that he meant by this was that as we grow up we internalise key messages about our place in the world and how best to survive within it. We absorb messages from our environment as children which we internalise and often carry on into our adult lives. ‘Children should be seen and not heard’ , ‘when I want your opinion I will ask for it’ and ‘if you don’t stop crying I will definitely give you something to cry about’. Berne would call these injunctions ( the don’ts) and drivers (the be’s) . Don’t be important; Don’t feel; Don’t think!

I believe that a truly inclusive society is one in which people don’t have to be ‘shiny on the inside’ but instead can be their true brilliant many faceted selves in public view.

Let it Shine

As a coach I see my role as to create an environment within which my clients can access their full potential as human beings. A place where negative mindsets, assumptions and limitations can be gently challenged. Berne saw the aim of his theory as being to enable us all to live in ‘autonomy’ as independent adults. Living with awareness, spontaneity and the capacity for intimacy with others. Sounds good doesn’t it?

Lets not be like the Paua, whose brilliance is not seen until its death. This is your life; your one and only life. You owe it to yourself to shine on the outside!!

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  • Andrew Blench

Why would I need a coach? This question reminds me of a conversation I recently had with a colleague. Me – have you thought about having some coaching sessions for yourself? Colleague – why would I need to have coaching? I am not one of those ‘high flyers’! This is a fairly common response and perception that coaching is for ‘ambition and driven people’ such as elite athletes or CEOs of large corporations, but it’s not for ordinary people like me! My own belief gained from the experience of having been coached and of being a coach is that everyone can and should benefit from coaching. What makes me say this then? Because coaching is about being the best version of yourself that it’s possible to be! Who wouldn’t want to be this! Coaching is about turning dreams and wishes into goals with realistic plans to achieve them. The sad thing is that many of us spend our lives wishing, hoping and dreaming of an alternative reality. Coaching encourages us to aspire and fulfil our personal and professional potential – Shoot for the Moon; even if you miss you will land among the stars! It’s also about developing strategies to overcome the things in our personal and business life which stop us from making progress. Many people say something like ‘I am my own worst enemy when it comes to xyz’ Whilst it is true to say that there are many very real challenges in life that people have to face the biggest struggle can be with what is going on in our own heads! Two of my favourite coaching questions are – ‘What could you do if you weren’t afraid?’ and ‘What would a braver version of you do?’ So how does this all work then? A professionally trained coach* will meet with you on a regular basis for 1 to 1 sessions delivered face to face or even remotely via applications such as Skype or Zoom. They will use a range of techniques drawn from the worlds of positive psychology, therapy and psychotherapy. But coaching is very different from therapy in that it isn’t about healing the hurts of the past but is very much about building for the future. A skilled coach will create an environment where you will do your best thinking and problem solving. Some have described coaching as having been given ’a good listening to’. The professional coach will also bring challenge and will hold up a mirror to your life in a non-judgemental way, where they feel this will serve you best. You have to be ready for coaching! This statement reminds of the many jokes circulating about ‘how to change a light bulb?’ Question ‘How many coaches does it take to change a light bulb?’ Punchline ‘as many or as few as you wish; the important thing is that the light bulb has to want to change!’ The most fruitful coaching sessions I have experienced have been with clients who wanted to engage with the process. It isn’t something to embark upon because your boss has signed you up to it or it’s something you feel you ‘ought to do’. You need to do it for you! So when can I sign up? A word of caution – chose your coach well* Ask what professional body they are registered with, what code of ethics do they adhere to and where did they train? Ask if they are accessing continuous professional development and supervision. Most coaches will offer what is known as ‘chemistry sessions’. This is where you have a short, no obligation, meeting with your potential coach to see if coaching is for you and the coach is someone you can work with. “Everyone needs a coach.” Says Gates, whether we are a CEO, leader, teacher, basketball player or bridge player, we all need people who will help us reach our goals and give us feedback.

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  • Andrew Blench

The Art of Delegation – sometimes as a manager we convince ourselves that we have to labour on under a massive unmanageable personal workload because ‘there’s no one here I can delegate tasks to – right?’ I would say ‘is that a fact or a belief?’ Is this an assumption you have made or a conclusion you have reached after making enquiries of those who work with you and for you? If it’s a fact then you may have to look for other ways to make your workload more manageable. But why not try a simple exercise to test your belief. Take a sheet of A4 paper (you could do this online of course) create a 4 column table. In the first column write on each row the name of someone you relate to in the work context. Direct reports, peers, your managers names can appear here. Head up the next 3 columns with the words ‘capacity’, ‘capability’ and ‘motivation’. Now go back and think about each of the names you have written down. For capacity ask the question ‘if I were able to delegate tasks to this person would they have the capacity (e.g. time/hours) to accommodate my task?’ For capability ask the question ‘does this person have the skills set they need to take on my tasks?’ and for ‘motivation’ the even more important question is ‘assuming they have the capacity and the capability what is their overall attitude to taking on tasks?’ To my shame when I did this exercise in my last role using the names of my 24 direct reports It made me realise that I didn’t know my staff half as well as I thought I did! I had ignored the fact that people had a life before they started working for us and had skills and experience from other roles which they were not using in the current one. I had assumed that they wouldn’t have the capacity to take on occasional tasks, but when I approached them they were pleased that I had asked and had been looking for something to add some variety to their day. But even if the answers to the first two areas of enquiry draws a blank is that the end of it? Often our direct reports see how overwhelmed we are with work and may want to help their boss deal with some of their stresses. So ask yourself the question can capacity be created with a bit of creative realignment of people’s tasks? Can the capability be developed in those who have the capacity but lack the skills? But it’s not that straightforward, you might say, as I can see people on this list with the capacity and skillset but with (what I think is) a really poor attitude to taking on anything which might be a deviation from their job description!! In other words the motivation or attitude isn’t good. I can guarantee that this little exercise has its frustrations and will possible bring the focus to bear on longer term people management issues! But don’t despair because in my experience it also has the potential to test some of my beliefs and release me from some of my tasks. So you have completed your grid and started to test out some of your assumptions. As well as creating some capacity for you it will also develop your knowledge of your team. But be careful where you leave your list!!

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