When I tell my friends that I am now a CPCC (Certified Professional Co-active Coach) and that I like to coach professionals, leaders and teams in the workplace, I often get bemused looks, as if I am in the grips of a midlife crisis gone terribly wrong. In many ways, however, what coaches and lawyers do in the work place is very similar, just from a different point of view.
Both coaches and lawyers ask many questions. In the courtroom, a lawyer will only ask questions for which they know the answer. A lawyer wins (that is, represents their client) by controlling the narrative. A coach, on the other hand, asks questions to help clients think through their problems and to come up with new answers. Coaches ask questions to spark curiosity, evoke new insights and bring trust in the room.
As a labour and employment lawyer, dealing with broken teams and failing leaders often means enforcing workplace rules and assigning blame. As a workplace coach, I deal with the same sorts of workplace issues, but from a different perspective. Coaches change the conversation from the ‘winners and losers’ paradigm to creating win-win outcomes for their clients. Coaches train resilience, so that teams are better able to deal with adversity.
Lawyers focus on the past, looking through the rear view mirror. That is the nature of the adversarial process, trying to figure out what happened and who was at fault. Coaches focus on the road ahead exploring what could be done differently to meet workplace challenges more productively and efficiently.
The workplace coaching I do with professionals, leaders and teams is no ‘mid-life’ crisis. My coaching processes are an addition to the skills and tools I have honed over the past 30 years to solve workplace problems. Coaching adds greater dimension and scope to my practice at Pink Larkin, a dispute resolution law firm.