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Transformational coaching during the Covid-19 crisis

Steve Bynon, is a transformational coach who has been giving coaching to organisations, including to our refugeeEd coordinator, Colette, during the past few weeks. Here's what he shared with us about his work and some strategies on how to live during this present time.

1. What's your experience of working in NGOs/charitable sector?

I have worked within the third sector for over 20 years, working in a range of projects including a start up service supporting refugees in central London, leading older people programmes and developing community based mental health services. In addition I founded a small international development charity supporting a tough area in Sri Lanka.   So I feel like I've been around a bit and have done lots of things .  

2. What is transformational coaching, how can it be helpful and how did you get involved?

My path to coaching was through volunteering with an amazing bunch of people in Nepal. I took a two month sabbatical from my regular day job in 2016, to support a young organisation in Nepal. The organisation had recently received its first substantial funding from Unicef and had gone through rapid growth from three people to over 30 people in a space of three months. The internal systems had not yet caught up so I spent my time helping with some of those internal systems, helping the management team think about what good leadership looks like and facilitating a load of workshops with the wider team to help them develop appropriate working practices.

Although it was a very positive experience all around, I wondered if it would have been even better if I had a few more tools in my tool kit – to be able to work more creatively during the group sessions. So when I got back to London I signed up for a 10 week short course in ''Coaching in Business'' at City University. As stated I just wanted a few more ideas of how to support group sessions/workshops but as it happened the two people that led the course came with the 'transformational coaching' ethos. I just found this so inspirational, I needed to find out more about this thing, so I then trained with Animas over the next year or so.  And have been coaching one to one and facilitating group coaching sessions  over the last three years. 

Transformational Coaching is a form of life coaching helping people explore their options and discovery their own solutions. I suppose what transformational coaching brings is that it enables people to challenge self limiting beliefs and see things through a different lens. So often we get caught up in our fast paced world, and there are so many negative voices which are constantly telling us we are not enough, not good enough, not pretty enough, not smart enough. Coaching provides some space for people to slow down, to reflect and build resilience. Sometimes it involves an action plan but often it's a slower internal shift.  One of my clients who had been stressed and burned from both her job and experiences in her personal life, caught herself singing one day, she surprised herself because she had certainly not been in a singing mood for a long while. She stopped and reflected on whether this was an appropriate action and decided it felt like a good thing to do and carried on singing.  It's not unusual to process things at both a conscious and subconscious level. And for me seeing that shift over time is a real joy. 

3. What do you enjoy about being a transformational coach?

Coaching is about people! People are just amazing and its a real privilege to hear their stories and especially those areas of their lives which they may not share widely and to be part of that change, their change! 

I also love the ethos of coaching - it really is person centred. Its approach is generous assuming the best of people and it is collaborative, working with the client as an equal. Of course hearing people's stories of what has shifted for them is very encouraging and a bit of a buzz. 

4. Is there an issue that commonly comes up when you coach projects? If yes, what are some helpful tips for dealing with it?

For projects particularly young organisations I would say a common issue is around self care – who is caring for the carers. Passion and enthusiasm can take you a long way but eventually the emotional load and day to day demands will catch up and people start to full over. Organisations need to be intentional in developing systems that enable people to be in it for the long haul. We all have our wobbly days, there needs to be some scaffolding to support people at these times. Most of the time its stuff which is common sense, things we already know – like having 'me' time, having supervision, and arranging social events for the team, its not big or clever but often even these things get lost in the day to day pressure of the mission. 

5. How to tackle it?  None of this is easy but i would suggest three things

Be intentional. No one would disagree with a 'well-being in a workplace' statement. But we know how it just sits on the folder or is a nice poster on the wall but its not not a living, breathing thing! Caring for your team should be as much a part of your mission as caring for the beneficiaries of your programme. And we need to banish from our minds the phase ''the customers always right' thus implying it's all about them. It's our staff, our team which are our greatest asset, without them we can do nothing.  

Consult your team. What do they need, what would they like to happen?

And then act!! Get in some quick wins, and start to formulate a strategy for the mid and longer term which is realistic and achievable. Take it seriously and consider it openly. The fact you are asking and taking ideas seriously is already a massive sign that you care and want to support your team. 

The areas that come up with individual clients are extremely varied. But I suppose a common theme is a feeling of not being good enough, and with that comes a whole load of low confidence and impostor syndrome .

I would suggest there's a couple of things you can experiment with to shift this mindset. 

Firstly, try to separate the action from your character. i.e. I did a stupid thing, I'm not a stupid person. I was under-confident in that meeting, I'm not an unconfident person.

Challenge those sweeping statements, 'I don't do public speaking, I always mess it up'  . Find counter examples, ask yourself. when was there a time when I spoke in public, you will quickly see that this is not about your character but an action. Reflect on what went well, and what was the situation at that time ie maybe you were part of a supportive team. 

Reflect on how you want it to feel, how you want to present yourself and start to live that. For some of us this feels weird, too close to fake it to make it. But research suggest that simple sitting upright with shoulders back, and chest slightly out, keeping good eye contact with others can make you feel more confident, while those that slouched felt more fearful, nervous and under-confident. 

Try and think of someone your respect as a leader  – this could be someone you know personally or my reputation (Gandhi, Mandela, Thatcher) and ask yourself: How would xx be in this situation? 

Get trained. It's certainly true that the more we  practice something the better we will get. as Samuel Beckett wrote 'Try, Fail, Try Again, Fail Better'. But training or mentoring can also add tools to our tool kit and help us feel more confident. 

And remember, this mind set thing, you have changed it before. Reflect on a time when you did this, when you thought 'I cant... ' and then did. i.e. I cant run 5 km, I cant find a job' ' I cant live with others,' whatever it may be. I have 'done it' many times without even noticing, and you can do it again. 

6. During these strange and difficult times, what advice would you give people managing people or teams?

This is a tricky one to answer as there are some many different responses to our present situation. For some this is causing a tremendous about of anxiety and I don't want to understate this. I would suggest that if people do feel overwhelmed they should  seek support from professionals. This might be a GP or specialist Mental Health practitioners, or make contact with an organisation like MIND who have a lot of information on their website and maybe able to link people into support services. 

However for many of us, it feels very weird, and I have certainly experienced that feeling of being in limbo, of feeling stuck, of groundhog day.  I would suggest three things to make it more bearable. 

Keep to a routine. I know this isn't easy when everything has been up rooted, but as far as possible try to stick to regular bedtimes and waking times. Trying to fill your day with regular activities, i.e. do emails at a certain time prepare meals at regular times, go for a walk. It just helps to give some structure to your day. 

Stay connected. Keep checking in with your family and friends. I was speaking to someone who 'went to the theatre' with her family. They met online for 15 minutes, then watched a theatre production online, and then met again after the performance for wine and chat. 

Limit time online. Don't get consumed with watching/reading the news and limit time on social media. It's easy to get addicted to our screens but this isn't that great for our mental wellbeing.


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