Ever Had a Client Stuck in a Nasty Situation?
Ever Had a Bird Trapped in Your House?
I’ve had both. In both cases, I learned not to mess up in the following way: trying to grab the bird and toss it out of the house. Birds hate that, and are really skillful at resisting the attempt. You or the bird can also get badly injured that way.
As a Shu-level, novice coach, I did the classic wrong-headed stuff, and still work hard to resist temptations to do the same stuff: pushing, pulling, badgering the client from a bad situation to a good one. It really is like chasing a bird around the house, brandishing a tennis racket. (Note to self: No!)
Releasing Attachment to the Outcome
We cannot truly control whether, indeed, the bird leaves the house, much less how fast or how well. There are no shortcuts for us or the bird. We can, however, strongly influence how the whole thing unfolds.
It really does have to be the bird’s idea to leave the house, if it will ever in fact happen. This may take a few seconds, a few minutes, a few hours (a few weeks! a few months! a few years!). Take your time.
Those of us who have (as I have) released birds, bats, and squirrels from the house have learned (A) how to open and close doors, and leave seed trails, in a way that invites the unhappy bird or squirrel out of the house; and (B) patience. With one bat, who flew along walls at 2″ from the wall, straight to each corner, then turned an abrupt 90-degree turn at the next corner, over and over, in perfect silence, it really took awhile. That bat took 30 minutes to notice that there was a door open along one of those walls (if the door had opened in, instead of out, it might have taken 1 minute).
When he finally flew through it, I pounced up and shut that door, preventing regression. I had been sitting there, drinking a beer, and tracking him as he flew these perfectly rectangular room circuits (not easy: bats indoors are flying about as fast as your neck muscles will allow your head to pivot).
Once he had found that first door, he seemed to sense that other open doors were good things, and flew straight through the remaining rooms out to freedom, bugs, and no doubt a well-earned nap. In classic coaching fashion, I had reached that tipping point where I had won enough trust to say goodbye.
Close Some Doors, Open Others
If you close doors to the inner part of the house (example: removing folks from their cubes and placing them in open workspaces, or not engaging in thermonuclear email exchanges about the New Agile Initiative), you can invite clients to not worsen their situation.
If you open other doors and windows to the great agile outdoors, you invite clients to try inviting, healthy, addictively fun, cool new things (example: tweaking the card wall to reveal blockages or gaps in value flow; helping clients write their first few storytests).
Asking Gently Provocative Questions: Opening Windows in the Mind
By this, I don’t mean “Where the hell are all of your unit tests”? (BTW, you know the question I REALLY don’t mean? It’s this one: ”Don’t you realize testability is vastly more crucial than encapsulation, you dolt?”)
I mean, instead, questions like “Has Rob paired with Lily recently?” or “How did method-level cyclomatic complexity change this past iteration?” or “How do you think that business verification went?” or “What do you think about the size of that test?” or “What do you think of that class name?” or “Did we see this retrospective improvement item in the last retrospective?” or “What do you really enjoy doing most on the team?”
If the Bird Blogs About How Cleverly I Let Him Out of the House,
I Probably Messed Up
The best of my personal coaches model for me, and counsel to me, the art of the client never discovering that the great idea was not originally theirs. Smart subordinates have been leading their managers from below in this fashion since the dawn of command and control, no doubt.
Not only is it OK, in a coaching position, to be a peer-to-peer influencer, as opposed to a top-down manager, it is typically preferable. People who I coach end up taking leaps of faith and trying scary new things, in good faith, not because anyone, including me, commands them to do them, or to try them. They do so because they trust me, like me, respect me, and happen to have had this cool idea pop spontaneously into their heads, unbidden.
The coaches I most respect, and most seek to work with, are those who help me as I refine my Ha and Ri in this coaching by question, coaching by seed trail, coaching by patient, engaged, gently provocative observation.
If you see me badgering someone to just shut up and do this Super Advanced Best Agile Practice Thing, please bust me on it. I will likely thank you (eventually, anyway).