The Coaching Practitioner – My experience

Preamble:

I had learnt with Karen Pratt in a 2-day introductory workshop on coaching in 2016 and found her style to be engaging and authentic. So, when she reached out with the plan of conducting a 7-day “Coaching Practitioner” course, I jumped on the opportunity. I had been working as an Agile Coach for close to 3 years and wanted to enhance my coaching skills. The build-up to the first day gave an indication of the amount of preparation Karen and her team at Coaching Development were putting into this program. I received periodic updates about the venue & arrangements, a 30-min 1-on-1 call with Karen to clarify the objectives of the course, books to read and preparatory exercises to help me hit the ground running on Day 1. So eager was I to get started, I reached the meeting point a good hour before the scheduled time! A hot chocolate, a sandwich and some “meets n greets” later, we were all on our way to the venue of our learning. I was happy to meet my friends Anand (Life-skills coach) and Shiva (fellow Agile Coach) and happier to meet new people – Jaba, a Buddhism practitioner & marketing professional, Smriti, a yoga practitioner and mentor coach, and Reena, a counselor. We reached the Pegasus Bangalore camp in Chikkaballapura district, India in about 90 minutes. There was something about reaching a new place at night that some of us found a bit unsettling and mysterious at the same time. As we groped around in the dark in an attempt to find our bearings, the helpful staff at Pegasus gave us a first glimpse of their hospitality by organising an orientation for us. With the do’s and don’ts clear, we proceeded to our tents after a light, refreshing dinner. The place was bustling with other groups of people chatting and relaxing after their outdoor training sessions were done for the day.

Day 1:

Although the word “coach” is part of my job title, I was skeptical about its value in learning and growth. Karen began day 1 with a group exercise on “What does a coach do?” and “What does a coach NOT do?” in comparison with consulting, mentoring and counselling. This was a great start as my understanding of the boundaries between these professions became clearer, and I already started appreciating the potential value of a coaching conversation. As if on cue, the next element was a quick introduction to a simple coaching model followed by a practice of the same. Kolb’s learning cycle comes alive in Karen’s teaching where theories are interspersed with activities, for e.g, taking turns to be a coach and a coachee for each other. It was a whirlwind tour of the world of coaching including the process and competencies. The Pegasus staff gifted us caps, and pampered us with lots of food and non-alcoholic beverages to keep our spirits high. At the end of Day 1, my skepticism regarding the value of coaching had gone down considerably, as I got the chance to be a client (coachee) and experience the value of a coaching conversation. As an additional gift, I was beginning to learn about myself when I was being the coach for someone.

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Day 2:

Day 2 presented the opportunity to move to an open classroom with a catchy name “The Small Gazebo” amid refreshing weather. Acknowledging that perhaps she had pushed us into the deeper end of the pool on Day 1, Karen proceeded to add more depth to our coaching knowledge. We saw the effortless merging of concepts from various fields, be it the NLP technique of Well-Formed Outcomes, or the 3 levels of Active Listening. Every concept was interweaved with practical exercises, and an opportunity to integrate the learning in a coach-client conversation. While I was intermittently looking at the clock on Day 1 wondering aloud “Are we there yet?”, I was thoroughly engrossed in the learning experience on Day 2 and caught myself exclaiming “Oh, we’re done already, is it?” at the end of the day. Mirroring the move from a closed to an open classroom, my own closed, judging mind was shifting into an open, curious one.

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Day 3:

Day 3 dawned in almost complete silence, as the rest of the groups had left and we had the whole campus to ourselves! With the promise of further learning awaiting us in the Gazebo, I woke up later than the first 2 days, after a good night’s sleep. Always one to focus on what’s required, Karen explained to us how the inter-module coaching works, and the role of the mentor coaches. Being a visual learner, Karen uses flipcharts extensively to write and show what she’s saying. Day 3 was no different, and I was delighted to find a topic from one of my favorite fields, Transactional Analysis, used for learning about our own communication styles. Kinaesthetic learning too found an expression during a practice exercise on developing action plans. Feedback, another topic close to my heart, attained a new meaning and perspective as we looked at the nuances of peer-to-peer feedback vs. trainer-trainee feedback. This later came alive in a 3-level feedback exercise when each of us took turns to coach the person next to us. The first level of feedback was from our peers who were observers focusing on specific competencies, level-2 was from Smriti, our mentor coach and level-3 from Karen. This provided such a rich, all-round view of my coaching style and competency that I’m still in awe of the depth of thought put into the structure of this program by Karen and the Coaching Development team. I also felt supported and cared for when Karen and Smriti changed the order of coaching, realising that I found it difficult to be a coach immediately after being a coachee.

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Amidst all this intense learning, we were blessed to have with us a Yoga practitioner (Smriti) and a Tai-Chi exponent (Anand) in our group, who took it upon themselves to energise us in the mornings. A couple of us ventured to a nearby lake on the first evening and coaxed the rest to join us on Day 2. One of the Pegasus staff members volunteered to be a tour guide on this lake hike, and apart from a minor injury scare for Reena, it turned out to be a relaxing getaway. The only grouses we had were the unavailability of Wi-Fi and the over-availability of mosquitoes! While the former gave us some time off the grid, the latter was addressed (partially) through a combination of coils, nets, bonfires and repellants. We also had the chance to meet Mr. Sreesha, the genial manager at Pegasus who admitted that mosquitoes were cleverer than humans. He arranged for us to tour the kitchen from where a seemingly endless supply of food was nurturing us throughout our stay. Not being much of a cook or foodie, my initial reaction was “Ah, what’s to see in a kitchen!” The rest of the group was quite interested, so I went along and was pleasantly surprised to see an amazingly well-organized, clean setup with a gentle, smiling chef and workers. By now you know how my mind works – skepticism followed by curiosity and awe! Knowing the kitchen gave a fresh perspective to the food we were eating, and dinner-time by the bonfire was replete with interesting anecdotes about life in Singapore, Canada, South Africa and of course, India. Ah, the pleasures of a residential learning experience!

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Postscript:

The Coaching Practitioner is a program I am glad I joined, and I recommend it highly to folks who are serious about learning the art of coaching. You can put yourself in the spotlight, challenge your beliefs, wrestle with yourself and emerge stronger and kinder in a safe and supportive environment. I am eagerly looking forward to meet my South African colleagues and continue to grow through days 4 to 7, interspersed with coaching sessions and feedback over the next few months!

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