I’ve just been reading about structure in coaching/mentoring relationships.
The comment that jumped out at me was:
You know, I think [structure]’s a bit of a security blanket for me
because I am a person who likes a bit of structure. And for those people who
do like a bit of structure it means that we start with something.
The quote is from Julian Lippi‘s PhD thesis (p149 if you want to look it up).
It made me think about my own attitude to structure. I always feel a bit tentative
about admitting this publicly, but I have never liked structure very much.
My absolute best work has always been done when there was no structure. When
I ad lib. To put this into context, it (good work) doesn’t happen
without preparation. In fact it requires intense preparation. Two kinds
of preparation. The first kind of preparation is around content. What do I
know that might be useful in the situation I am going into – whether that be
a coaching/mentoring role, a consulting role or any other activity that anticipates
some sort of an outcome.
This type of preparation is absolutely necessary for good work to occur but
it isn’t sufficient. The second type of preparation is of myself. I have to
know how I am feeling. I have to know that I am fully available for my client.
I have to be present for my client.
This preparation is awful. During this phase, I go through all sorts of self
doubt. I ask myself why I do this. I feel a fraud. I feel I have nothing to
offer. My mind goes blank. I consider calling in sick – or making some excuse
that I have been unavoidably delayed and can’t make the meeting. If I am already
there, I think about fainting or suddenly developing appendicitis.
When all this happens and I feel absolutely awful when I start, my client
almost invariably tells me that my work was brilliant (or at least very good.)
This has been a consistent problem throughout my professional career. I look
at other people and see their fantastic methodologies and wish I had a methodology
as good as theirs. I wish I had great diagrams and a process. I look at other
methodologies and try to adapt them to be my own. This is always a mistake.
When I offer to work with my clients, I offer me — not a poor imitation of
But I have developed a methodology — or rather I have developed a description
of what I do. Finally, I have something that fits me. It looks like there are
distinct stages of the coaching/mentoring process/session which in one way
there is. In overall my clients start by Perceiving (their current situation),
Connecting (with themselves and their enduring purpose) and then Acting (or
planning action, or preparing for action). While this is the theoretical form
of the process they can, like in a Beethoven sonata, happen in any order.
Unlike Zoe, in Julian’s story, I don’t limit myself to particular interventions
in particular phases of the session. Anything can happen at any time. However,
like a Beethoven sonata, you can recognise a recurring theme, you can also
recognise a beginning, a middle and an end — although sometimes the end is
to a movement rather than the sonata itself.
Like the process itself though, I come in and out of my comfort with it. I
have doubts. I have a moment’s yearning for something more defined.
For better or worse though, I am who I am and bring who I am to my work.