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How I Turned My Coaching Session Into a Personal Learning Experience

I had one more international E3 coaching session in San Jose, US. The E3 session is 48-hours of intensive work for the trainer. The entire time you’re on stage you need to be energetic and energizing. But at the same time, it is so rewarding and really a great learning experience. I am so grateful of having such a great possibility to grow.

Kati Ilvonen 

Change driver and Head coach at Ericsson R&D

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A signboard on a tree

Picture from the trails near the workshop venue.


The Struggle Starts

I always try to do my best to keep my energy level high before each session by ensuring I get enough sleeping, eat nutrition-rich food, and performing physical and mental exercises to energize both my body and mind. However, being jet-lagged due to a 10-hour time difference will take its toll on almost anyone. So did it for me also.

About half way through our time together, I got feedback from some of the participants about how they didn't have a clear picture of why we were doing this training and the value it would bring to the organization. I got really worried about it. I thought that I had been clear enough, but obviously my message was not that well received by all of the participants. I was disappointed, ashamed, insecure, worried and tired.

The Responsibility Process

One of our topics in the session is to discuss and examine The Responsibility Process by Christopher Avery. The Responsibility Process explains how people mentally process thoughts of avoiding responsibility. It is fascinating how in a hard situation our mind goes through different stages of denial, laying blame, justifying and feeling shame. After that we feel obligated, which forces us to get things, instead of true responsibility. Obligation is really consuming us tremendously on long term. Sometimes these steps happen so quickly in our mind that we aren't even aware of them. However, owning our own story and our own life makes us empowered to unleash the great potential within ourselves. Ownership enables us to be truly responsible in any situation. Responsibility here means owning your ability and power to create, choose, and attract without obligation, shame, or laying blame.

Walk The Talk

So, my mind went through the steps too. First, I was blaming others and thinking why we couldn't start a day later as I proposed in order make sure I've recovered at least partly from my jet-lag. Next step was to justify, I thought I haven't been able to explain myself clearly, because I'm so tired that I can't create fluent sentences (which wasn't true though) in English as it is not my native tongue. Next was shame, I thought I'm just a bad coach, shame on me, I really cannot do this. Then obligation came into picture, I have to be able to inspire these people. I have to make them understand the value of this session.

Going through all of these stages in my mind, I still wasn't in the responsible state of mind. I asked myself, "what I can do in this situation?", "How can I respond to this feedback?" I cannot make other people think something, I cannot make them to understand. All I can do is be open and honest with. By trying to explain everything again, I can try to find out what is unclear and work to remedy it. This approach can be a disaster too; maybe they won't understand and they'll still think that this is just waste of time. But it is still worth trying.

Daring to be vulnerable

I thought that if I'm trying my best, I can live with it. And at least if I fail, I will fail trying. As Theodore Roosevelt said in his powerful 1910 "Man in the Arena" speech: "It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; ... who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly." I've been studying and practicing vulnerability and now this was a great opportunity for learning.

So, I decided to try. I was really open; sharing with the participants how I felt about the feedback I received from some of them. First of all, I was grateful for this feedback because without it I really couldn't tackle the issue at hand. I described what steps my mind had gone through (this was actually an excellent example to help them to understand the responsibility process), and how I think I've reached the responsible state of mind. After explaining this to them, I asked them to raise their hands if they understood why we are spending 48 hours on this session together and the value it will bring. Roughly half of them raised their hands. They shared with others how they understood the purpose of the session, and then I explained again my thinking and viewpoints. I also shared real life examples what this session has brought to many other individuals and organizations. We had a great discussion about it, and finally I felt like we were back on track and energy level was raised too for the whole group.

If I fail at least I will fail daring greatly!

After the session we discussed about it and instant feedback was encouraging. What actually mattered most for me personally was that whatever will be the end result; if I fail at least I will fail daring greatly!

Now I’ve got the written feedback from the participants and I can say that this was a success, feedback is excellent and we manage to convey the message to the audience.

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