Saturday, December 8, 2012

Great Coaching: The Possibilities when Starting with A Blank Page

What is the most powerful and telling attribute to look for when evaluating and selecting a coach to help with your transformation? Perhaps it's the attribute of starting with a “Blank Page”!

This concept is referenced by Harvard Business Writer, Robert Kaplan in a recent article for Inc. Magazine, “Great Leaders Don’t Have to Know All the Answers”  Kaplan describes a handful of behaviors for great leaders.  In this short list he references the blank page as:
“Do I look at my enterprise with a clean sheet of paper?” 
Kaplan’s Clean Sheet of Paper and our Blank Page highlight that preconceived notions constrain creativity and limit possibilities.

In the context of transformation coaching, it applies when the coach shows up on day one and literally starts with clean sheet of paper... and no preconceived notions of what the journey or ultimate destination will be! The alternative is a coach who arrives with preconceptions of how you should operate.  It’s often based on the technique or approach they are most comfortable with (yet without justification if its the right approach for you, the team, or organization).

Here are other key attributes of a great coach:

Client focused - At the top of the list is client focus. It’s all about the client and an acute focus on getting results that address their needs.  With a blank page, a coach isn’t interested in experimenting with their latest theories or testing out a concept they recently read about.  They're forced to listen carefully to the client and absorb the surrounding context before presenting suggestions on an approach. And once the client determines their choice of options, the coach should be focused on helping them navigate through the consequences.

Collaborative - A Blank Page enables the coach to work with the client to cocreate an approach and results that best fit the client’s context. Preconceived ideas may generate some positive progress, but it will be much less scalable and sustainable than a solution that was derived in collaboration with the client. You want a coach that is open to new and creative possibilities.

Renewal - One of the biggest challenges in any transformation journey is letting go of existing paradigms and processes.  A coach with a Blank Page philosophy provides leadership in the form of example to help a client confront this challenge of letting go.  A demonstration that starting fresh opens the door to exciting possibilities. 

Confident and Grounded Principles - A Blank Page is a demonstration of confidence that the coach has a depth of experience as well a vast toolbox of proven best practices that can be combined and shaped to meet the needs of the client.  It demonstrates that they lean on principles and human dynamics to form opinions and not the most popular technique of the day.  They’ll be comfortable in chaos and have the ability to appreciate and even shape context. 

Neutral - Neutrality is essential for a coach.  Without a Blank Page the coach may lean toward practices that favor specific groups or perspectives within an organization.

There are many attributes that describe a great coach, but getting their perspective relative to the “Blank Page” will provide valuable insights.  

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Mark. I want to note that the blank page can be a very intimidating prospect for the client! "Aren't you going to just tell us what to do?" "Don't you have a template for that?"
    In order to create real value, you have to think and ask about what is valuable, and many organizations--and/or the people in them--are not really ready to think that hard. It reminds me a little of "A Stupidity-Based Theory of Organizations ( ) which posits that there are both positive and negative effects of narrow thinking. Being unable to start from a blank page is one of the negative ones.