I see coaching values as a “problem” which is why I am so passionate about it

A problem is (also) a question to be answered or solved. Especially by reasoning or calculating

Cambridge Dictionary – https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/problem

I love problem solving I love to help others to learn to solve problems. But there is a problem with this. When I say problem I often mean “a puzzle to be solved” or “a thing to understand” but I think what people hear is:

A matter or situation regarded as unwelcome or harmful and needing to be dealt with and overcome.

The first thing that came up when I googled “meaning of problem”

This is a bad starting point if I tell people that I want to focus some of my coaching on values. Firstly I hope that “value” is the opposite of “A matter regarded as unwelcome.”

Worse yet, I think people sometimes expect that I mean “I want to teach you some good values,” which sounds condescending if not actually insulting. Most people I coach have a set of values that they have built up over many years and that are the right values for them. They don’t really want me to act like a priest who is preaching salvation and calling on them to forsake their sins of waterfall thinking or individual accomplishment or something.

Yet, there is also a problem if I claim that I will not be involved in arguing for values, such as “people and interactions over processes and tools” or “If you claim to do scrum you should include the value of transparency” or even “Kanban thinking means never passing Sh*t on to the next guy – stop and fix it.”

So there is a problem (unwelcome situation) when I talk about agile coaching because I am referring to two completely different things:

  • Helping a team understand the values I believe in (agile goodness, respect for the diversity of the team); and
  • Coaching the team to understand their values and build on the diverse views (values) of the team.

So when I say “I will help you adopt an agile approach” I mean is quite complicated. I mean that I will share with you an approach to work that is based on clear values and assumptions. I will not claim it is always the best way to get your work done (though I do have a bias here); but I will claim that if you operate in a context where these values and assumptions are well aligned to your team, your environment and your aspirations, then I will help you solve the problem puzzle of how to build a way of working that is both empowering for your crew AND optimised for success in that context.

This is something I am passionate about and that I think will create great value for your crew IF you understand the values and assumptions that we are basing everything on. For example

  • You trust your crew and honestly want them to be empowered and accountable;
  • You crew want to learn and grow;
  • The work you do cannot be perfectly defined at the start, but rather the way you work must have learning built into it;
  • You and your team can define what “value” is and your definition will match that of your customers
  • or something

That might be agile coaching, but is it “coaching values”?

My hypothetical questioner

What about coaching values then?

Now we enter difficult territory and I am not sure if I am aligned with other agile coaches and their teams. I think agile values are good, but I do not think that coaching values means teaching people to have the same values that I have – that is the work of an agile missionary.

When I coach people though, part of what I hope to help people with is to help them to find resonance. I also want to have “generative conversations” where I act as a partner to help them understand their own thinking.

That sounds like waffle when you think about it though. So let me start to be a little more concrete.

When I ask people what their goals are in being coached, they often tell me what they think their goals “should be.” This might be what their boss (or parents) told them that they should aspire to. It might be what they think a leader or a product manager SHOULD be like.

But if I coach someone to be someone else, who is not aligned to who they really want to be, then we are working together to create “Dissonance” or an unwelcome state of affairs where they way they naturally act is not aligned to the way they think they should be acting. This means they must spend valuable brain power (attention) on second guessing how another more ideal person would act.

This is again preaching rather than coaching. If I am coaching, in what I think is its pure sense, then I am helping the person (or team) uncover their existing strength and potential and finding a way to nourish that potential so that the person can flourish.

I don’t want to help you to survive here in this company, by becoming what people currently expect of you, I want to help you thrive, and hopefully find a way to do it here.

Me – more than once when I was ear bashing people I have coached

Great – but what does that mean. It means that I want to start the journey by helping people separate three versions of themself:

  1. The “should be” self – where they feel that they are expected to meet the expectations of someone else (a boss; and industry view of what a leader should be)
  2. The “want to be” self – the person they want to become more like as they continue to grow – the person they really want to see when they look in the mirror
  3. The “need to” self – clarifying what they need to do to achieve a goal or outcome and then deciding if it is worth the journey. This is more often seen as the current self on the journey that might be overwhelming them (or boring them out of their brains).

This is where values come in. If people are not at least partly clear on THEIR values, or the things they see as important to them, then there is no way to separate the should be self, based on someone else’s values and aspirations, from the “want to be” self, based on their own values and aspirations.

This is the first, possibly greatest puzzle that I love to help people begin to solve.

If they are not clear on their real values, people will still have those values, but they will often feel stress (coaches say either experience dissonance or lose self regulation as their emotions override their thinking).

Without a coach, or at least time for some reflection, a person will often overcome their dissonance or emotional override by falling into a thinking trap (denying the problem, blaming others, catastrophising) or through adopting a cognitive bias (assuming that because they are a good person, what they did is right, or assuming that another person is wrong because they are from the wrong group). Both these approaches kind of work in their way, but they constrain the person from flourishing.

With time to reflect, some encouragement and ideally some competent, compassionate coaching, I think people can instead suffer a little stress in a way that the stress highlights a road to growth (good pain) and that leads to greater resonance (alignment of thinking, action and the environment I guess).

If people do get a chance to see and reflect on their own thinking and they can then achieve resonance then they can act more quickly, be happier with what happens when they act and start to feel more confident in tackling future problems (puzzles).

That is something I am very passionate about – helping people clarify their own thinking and recognise their own strengths and potential so they can better tackle the problem (puzzle) of how to move from frustration to growth.

This is also something that is a problem (unwelcome situation) in that I am sometimes unclear myself on whether I am currently “coaching” as in helping build a way of working based on core values and assumptions or “coaching” as in acting as a partner for people to find the internal strength and growth to become great problem (puzzle solvers). Worse, I suspect that when people ask for or agree to “coaching” from me they don’t really realise what I am inviting them to participate in. They either want me to solve problems and give solutions or they actually want me to leave them alone so they have time to solve their real problems and not have to humour me with discussing how agile they should be.

So that is the reason I am passionate about coaching and values, that is the real problem I want to partner together to solve (as in solve a truly satisfying puzzle) and that is the problem (unwelcome situation of confused goals or expectations) that I think now I need to deliberately deal with with in order to create space for when I coach.

In fact I would say that “being someone who helps others identify and solve their most important puzzles” is one of my more complex values.

I have no idea whether these thoughts make sense to you and whether you share a similar view of the puzzle of coaching. I would be curious to know even if it is not the case.

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