The Gift of Vulnerability

I sat in the middle of a meeting room recently, right inside the middle of the u-shaped arrangement of tables and chairs, and asked a group of leaders to tag-team coach me. 

It was the last group activity scheduled for the Coaching for Performance workshop that I was facilitating.  I had just presented the GROW model (Goal-Reality-Options-Will), and the tag-team coaching activity was a way for the group to practice asking powerful questions using the GROW model and support each other’s learning. 

I shared with the group a real situation which I thought I could advance with the help of some coaching.  One by one the participants asked me questions, including:

  • Laura, why is this important to you?
  • What’s getting in your way?
  • What beliefs contributed to that?
  • You said time was a limiting factor.  What else?
  • What do you think will happen when you get it done?
  • What are you willing to try?
  • When do think you could get that done?  Can you be more specific?

It was only 15 minutes, but I was astounded at the group’s seamless engagement in the process, the quality of their questions, and the impact it had on me.  As they asked their thoughtful questions and built upon each other’s approach, I felt more and more energized thinking “wow, they seem really interested in supporting my success in this endeavor!” 

They were not only supporting me – they were also holding me accountable for the actions I had identified.  And at the end of the activity, I thought I had truly made progress in my thinking and planning, and identified some concrete, actionable steps.

It was not the first time I’d done this activity.  However, like many other times, I felt a bit anxious putting myself in a vulnerable position in front of participants towards the end of a workshop I was facilitating.  I have no assurances that the process would go as well as intended, and if the participants would walk away with a better understanding of this coaching model and the power of listening and thoughtful questions.

I can’t speak for the participants who have done this activity with me, and their specific learning experience.  But I can say that whenever I make myself vulnerable like that, I walk away with a gift every time.  It could be more clarity, some insight, actionable steps, a deeper connection with the group, or all of the above. 

A coaching conversation is an act of vulnerability on both sides.  Neither of us know where we might land on the other side.  For the person being coached, it’s an invitation to be open to a joint examination of a situation and an exploration of options.  For the person coaching, it’s an invitation to be curious and fully engaged in support of someone else’s journey. 

As leaders we find ourselves in situations where what is required is a supportive conversation, like coaching or giving feedback.  And there are no scripts that can ensure success, because every situation and every person is different.  But there are recipes that we can make our own, and stories we can learn from.  And the more we step into that vulnerable space and have these conversations, the more we can learn from our own stories and experiences. 

It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Kwela’s Coaching for Performance workshop explores some conversational recipes.

Laura Villacrusis, Senior Consultant