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“So…what do you do?”

By Sharif Maghraby (Creative Coaching Maestro at Winnovate)

I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all been asked this basic question at some point in our lives. Whether it’s at a speed-networking event, or at a casual encounter in the elevator or while catching our breath between circuits at the gym, this question is rampant and it’s here to stay. Love it or loathe it, it’s not going anywhere! So, it’s probably a good idea to have an answer ready. I’ve heard great answers that have included “breaking through boundaries”, “unleashing people’s potential”, “igniting powerful change”, “inspiring the realization of insights”, “supporting positive transformation and raising auric frequencies.” 

When answering this question, I’ve found that the biggest challenge is clarifying the key differences between the multiple learning methodologies that exist within the related fields of HR, skills training, human capital development and coaching (sometimes referred to jointly as L&D). There’s definitely a clear crossover between these approaches and what follows is an attempt to integrate (and differentiate) some of them into a simple framework.

Since iteration is a key component to successful innovation - I invite you to comment on this framework and perhaps together, we will co-create a more comprehensive and robust model. Let’s dive in!

The heat from the blazing flood lights hanging on the steel trusses. The chatter and buzz of anticipation and expectation from the audience. The loud thumping of my heart (which could probably be heard through my lavalier mic!). The cool sweat beads forming on my brow. The intoxicating smell of the dry ice as it flowed out from beneath the giant stage. I’d been here before and I knew the drill.  I knew exactly how to excel in this situation:

“Just breathe slowly and deliver an incredible performance. Let your positive energy and passion for the subject flow naturally. Show your authentic self and animate the stories.  Deliver the key message with power and charisma - and make sure to hold the silence. Remember to look into their eyes...”

The massive screen behind me showcased the slides that I had so meticulously designed. I always loved seeing the small details that I had worked on the day before magnified and amplified in such enormous detail. The copyright symbol was as big as my fist!

“Good morning ladies and gentlemen and thank you for your attention…”

As many of us already know, whether from being speakers ourselves or being on the receiving end of lectures or speeches – the content structure of a keynote is rigid and static. The lesson does not change, the speech is well rehearsed, and the lecture is designed to impart a very clear message and outcome. The delivery style is always omni-directional and directive. Also, the audience is not required to interact. On the contrary – conversations among the participants are viewed with disdain as they tend to interrupt and disrupt the flow of the speaker. Finally (and if there is time) – it is the audience that is asking the questions and the objective of the enquiry is purely to ensure understanding of the content matter.

I arrived at the tiny lobby of the boutique hotel in a frantic frenzy at 7am suffering from a cracked smartphone and an incoming flu. I was happily greeted by the supportive staff who quickly dispersed and helped me to carry my stuff to the meeting room: a large traveler bag full to the brim with folders, markers, pens and post-its, a laptop bag with HDMI and power cables, USB chargers, iPads, notepads and a stopwatch, a video bag with tripods, lenses, cameras, mics and an external recorder and - one well-pressed navy blazer on a thick wooden coat-hanger. All good.

As we entered the venue, we began the mandatory process of setting up the space to prepare for the day’s session with one final check on the flipcharts, markers, name-tags, bottled water, lanyards, notebooks, tables, chairs, coffee, sandwiches, juice, breath mints and air conditioning.

All done. I was happy and ready to proceed. I welcomed the participants with a big smile as they arrived into the room.

“Good morning! How’s your day going…?”

The training approach moves very slightly in our continuum as we will see. As a trainer, the content is still static, and the delivery is still directive. However, we make room for activities that crystalize the learnings and also allow for some dynamic content that is based on the opinions or experience of the audience. For example, if I am training a group on how to use a video editing software – the nature of the content will not change but the examples, scenarios and ideas that they come up with will be different from group to group. Also, when it comes to the interaction aspect – the breakout groups may interact with one another but only within the context of a specific exercise and within a very clear time-frame. Most of the time this is to convey or concretize a better understanding of the learning and not to ‘create’ any new outcomes or concepts. Finally, the questions are mostly asked by the audience to the trainer to facilitate understanding as well. This is not to say that trainers do not use questions to gauge, engage and also exchange with the audience. But the goal of this is usually to peak their interest and keep them awake – as opposed to co-creating new directions for them to explore.

I smiled silently and leaned back on the cool, marble walls of the huge boardroom watching a group of CEO's, VPs, COOs and board members wait for my command. This was Day 2 of a leadership retreat that I had been hired to facilitate. I reminded them of our team alliance and the key values of clarity, connection, transparency, respect, contribution, trust and openness that we had co-created the day before.

It’s always immensely gratifying to watch constellations take form and also to facilitate a dialogue around a specific issue that the team has co-created. By asking powerful questions, listening to what is being said (and unsaid), provoking participation and also challenging ‘blah blah blah’ – I have found that the outcome is almost always positive. As the constellation took form and each member found their natural place, I began a series of activities that provided a very valuable framework for the participants to explore, interact and align.

“All right, we’ve all agreed on the business challenge that we wish to align on and have also agreed that I would facilitate this systemic constellation before we move to agreeing on the actionable items. Ready? Go!”

For anyone who has practiced systemic coaching or taken part in facilitating a conversation, engagement and/or dialogue – it becomes very evident that this skillset and approach yields a much more dynamic outcome. We may spend some time aligning on a framework, defining strategic objectives or tackling key business priorities but once that is done – the space is open for exploration and the content moves from a static to much more dynamic nature. The delivery style is also much more inquisitive (non-directive) in nature and this is vital for effective facilitation. The ability to listen and assimilate the group’s common voice is also a crucial component of this skill. The audience interaction is encouraged and those who do not participate may be put on the spot and asked to speak their mind. The facilitator is the one asking the questions and it may be to validate his/her understanding of what is being said – but it also may be to enable co-creation amongst the group. As you can see this is very different than delivering a keynote!

I sank comfortably in my old-fashioned leather chair feeling very relaxed and excited about the next hour. My newest client was sitting in-front of me with a big grin on her face. She had heard about my holistic wellbeing coaching services from another very happy client and was ready to make some radical changes in her life. The room had been setup in a way to ensure a safe, trusting and almost meditative mood. There was some cool piano jazz music playing from the stereo as the vanilla scented candle flickered to the rhythm of the drummer. The tea kettle whistled on the stove.

As part of my methodology - I introduced her to the ICF (International Coaching Federation) code of ethics and asked her permission to clarify the key differences between teaching, training and co-active coaching. I made it clear that we would be adhering to the ICF framework and to give her some key insights about the methodology prior to officially beginning the session. I turned down the music and then asked her a few questions to ensure that she had understood our roles and responsibilities.

“So, what would you like to discuss today?”

As you can probably tell, in coaching the content is very dynamic in nature because it is the client who sets the agenda for the session. We do not approach the session with a pre-conceived agenda. As the famous IDEO mantra says – we embrace ambiguity and dive forth into a journey of exploration with 100% trust in the process. We also find that the delivery style is inquisitive in nature (non-directive) with the coach using key core competencies like coaching presence, direct communication and powerful questioning to enable and empower the client to find their own insights. Most importantly, even though the session may take place on a 1-on-1 basis– it is interactive in nature and the client is doing 95% of the talking. And when we move to systemic coaching modalities like ORSC and others – the team dynamic is highly interactive and collaborative as well.

Finally, it is the coach who is asking the questions not the participant. And these questions are designed to inspire exploration and also enable co-creation.

So, which approach do I use now? I would say that one of the key things that sets us apart at Winnovate (powered by SAP) and gives us an added advantage is that we use a synthesis of frameworks and techniques. In a typical design thinking or business model innovation workshop, I actually switch between all 4 approaches. For example, I might begin the lecture with typical a systemic coaching method where we would co-create the team alliance as well as the key areas that would eventually define the innovation challenge statement. I may then utilize a directive lecturing style approach to deliver some high-level theory about innovation methodologies and mindsets. This would include answering questions from the audience to ensure their understanding of the content. We might then move to facilitation where I would create a space for dialogue – provoking conversation and igniting ideas within the group. I may then switch back to a standard training mode and get the audience comfortable with some of the key techniques necessary to prepare them for the more challenging activities. I may then switch back to coaching again and support them to find key insights that will help them to converge around a specific point of view and guide them towards a more concrete challenge statement. To use a popular term from the ICF world, it’s definitely a process of ‘dancing in the moment’.

Now when someone asks me what I do, I smile confidently and say, “I inspire and empower creative and positive change.” I find that this is concise, precise and to the point.

 “So… what do you do?”

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