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Rethinking Leadership GC, Episode 4: Coaching as a Leadership Practice (TRN4-P12)


In this episode of the Rethinking Leadership GC podcast, France Hutchison draws on her extensive experience as a master coach to explore how coaching can help you find the courage to achieve your goals authentically and how to create a meaningful and supportive work environment.

Duration: 01:01:15
Published: May 20, 2022
Type: Podcast

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Rethinking Leadership GC, Episode 4: Coaching as a Leadership Practice

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Transcript: Rethinking Leadership GC, Episode 4: Coaching as a Leadership Practice

Robert Armstrong: Hello and welcome back to Rethinking Leadership GC, a podcast series that aims to inspire and challenge your personal leadership journey. My name is Robert Armstrong and I'm currently a regional manager of H.R. programs at Public Services and Procurement Canada. In this episode we're welcoming France Hutchison. France is an amazing leader in the public service of Canada. She has a long and storied career in coaching, and I'm really looking forward to talking to her. She spent a good amount of her career at the Canada School of Public Service doing lots of work on leadership, lots of work on coaching for various purposes, and we'll talk about a lot of those different reasons why we get into coaching.

And she's now actually switched directions a little bit, and I'll let her talk a little bit about herself first. So welcome France and bienvenue. So, can you tell us, first of all, what you're doing these days?

France Hutchison: Yes, thank you, Robert. So excited to be here today. I am a free agent at Treasury Board Secretariat. And what does a free agent do in the workplace? I've joined the Treasury Board in that specific program because I wanted to bring coaching into organizations. So, I was focusing mainly on the teams and systemic coaching. I'll explain a bit more what it means. But basically, I am helping organizations bring coaching into their organization.

Robert Armstrong: Looking forward to talking about that, because I think there's some organizational opportunities right now. And I think you're driving some of those opportunities forward. So, let's just backtrack a bit and let's think about you, your career, your passion, which clearly is coaching, but there's other facets to it as well. So just share with the audience, if you would. What brought you first into it? What was the first attraction to coaching for you?

France Hutchison: Yes. Well, thank you for that nice question. When I entered government, my goal was to become an EX really, really quickly. I guess with I don't know, as an achiever, probably type A kind of personality, I love challenges. I was really aiming at the top. And so, I joined a leadership program called MTP. I don't know if you remember that program.

Robert Armstrong: I recall that one, I do.

France Hutchison: It's management training program, that was probably around 24 years ago now, Robert. In that program you kind of learned all kinds of tools in management, but basically you learned who you are as a leader. And I had a chance to use all kinds of courses, but there was something about leadership programs I really, really liked. It's those tools where you learn about yourself, self-awareness, intro leadership. And I was assigned to a coach, and this is where my love for coaching started.

Robert Armstrong: So, what was it about that relationship that triggered that passion for you? Do you remember what it was? Was it a specific moment, an exchange, some kind of vibe or what turned that passion on?

France Hutchison: Yeah, it's basically it's the kind of questions that a coach was asking me that were so different and made me pause. I remember the first time I had a mentoring, you know, mentoring conversation you have them often in the workplace. You have people asking you what are your goals, where you see yourself, what have you tried? You know, all these questions are more related to your path and also related to maybe your goals in the workplace. But the coach really was asking me questions about it, you know, the inner aspect of what I was thinking inside that I was not- I was afraid to say outside. With a coach. I had the space to explore these things and say the real things, say the stuff that was probably hiding. And these things were probably really stopping me from moving forward or getting unstuck.

So, these coaching conversations really helped me fast track my leadership path. So that's what I really appreciate. So, I don't have a specific time, Robert, but I just remember those moments where I had these coaching conversations, and every time I was leaving a coaching conversation, the growth aspect and the thinking was, was growing afterwards, even after the conversation with the coach.

Robert Armstrong: Interesting. So, you're opening up at an interesting thing for me here because you're talking a lot about questions, right? And I get the sense and I've been, I've been watching you and listening to you for a while now. I do get the sense that questions are a key part of that. But you also mentioned mentoring a bit. So, let's start with that. I think it's important for everybody to understand that there is a difference. Right? And oftentimes in the public service, especially we talk about mentoring and coaching programs all in one breath, but they are complimentary. I think you probably agree with that. But there's some nuances that we need to tease apart. So, can you do that for us a little bit and tell us what is mentoring, what is coaching and maybe what they're not?

France Hutchison: Yes, absolutely. Well, normally the first thing I'm observing in the workplace is people are getting confused between coaching- they actually think that a coach will act like a mentor. A mentor is someone that you that actually you're seeking help from or advice from because they've been through the journey. They actually, they're probably in the position that you're aiming for or the kind of leadership skills that they have.

It's probably someone that you want to modelize their journey or their experience. So, you want to learn how they've done it. So, the conversation will probably be based more on their story and what you want to achieve. They will ask the questions. This, you know, they might ask the tough questions like a coach would do but they will a lot- they will refer to their experience and they probably will give you advice. And I'm saying probably because some mentors don't like to give advice, they will just tell their story and they will say, you know what, this is my story, you do whatever you want with it, but I suggest this. Some people will go towards that. This is a mentor.

The coach doesn't have to be the expert or doesn't have to have the journey experience that you're seeking. But the coach will use those powerful questions in order to help you find your own path, find the next right step and they will probably through questioning, highlight some zones that you're not exploring. You know that we are human beings that have lots of patterns. We actually make a lot of decisions that are similar. We're doing probably the same kind of decision. We probably use the same mechanisms to make those decisions. A coach will help you to refine those processes or refine the areas that you should be seeking in order for you to have a broader perspective.

Robert Armstrong: Okay.

France Hutchison: Does that make sense?

Robert Armstrong: I think so. So, could I have a mentor and a coach at the same time or are there different phases in my progression when I need, you know, one and not the other?

France Hutchison: Great question. You can have as many mentors and as many coaches as you want on topics of coaching and mentoring that can be similar. It's just the approach is different. I find that the more you want to work on yourself, the more you want to be self-aware and maybe change the word that I used before as patterns or get unstuck or change the way you lead certain areas of your life, professionally or personally, you will probably seek the mentor for certain reasons and the coach for certain reasons.

And there are coaches who are wearing both hats. There are mentors who are wearing both hats as well meaning the mentoring and the coaching. But they might shift from one to another once in a while.

Robert Armstrong: Right. Okay. So, let's talk a little bit about the nuance between coaching and counseling then, because, you know, I'm hearing you talk about getting unstuck and trying to maybe break patterns or at least perceive one's own patterns, that self-awareness piece. But we're not talking about counseling, are we? We're not talking about therapy.

France Hutchison: And we're not and that's the, I think, wrong perception about coaching because we normally ask these questions that will lead to emotions, will lead to past experience but the focus of the coach is to get you from A to B, the future situation, the desired outcome, the objective that you're trying to achieve or to gain. The Counsellor will probably go more in the past, will probably spend a bit more time in the past and explore those zones of the past experience that led to being stuck.

The coach will not spend time there. So, we are focused on the future and what you want to get out of the situation, which a lot of times, based on my experience in conversation, I have with a lot of clients or a lot of participants in coaching, a lot of us are spending time expressing ourselves on the things we don't want, but the things that we want are hard to define.

So that's the kind of work that we're doing with the coach and we're focusing, like I said, on that position that letter B where you're focusing.

Robert Armstrong: So, it's funny because I, I think you just already helped me with an "aha moment" already in this conversation because now I'm getting that coaching is about having an orientation towards that goal, right? And having maybe those conversations and asking questions about goals. But what, what if, I don't know, necessarily what my goals are? Can I come to a coach without having that fully fleshed out?

France Hutchison: That would be the first topic of conversation, setting a goal, I don't have a goal. I don't know where I'm going. I don't know what's motivating in my life or my career aspirations that could be a topic of conversation with a coach.

Robert Armstrong: Okay. So, coaching in the workplace, right? I'm sensing there's a bit of a renaissance, like a real nice revival happening. And, you know, I should have mentioned to the audience at the beginning you are one of the key pieces of the coaching summit. That's a cross-government festival of coaching, if I can put it that way. It's an amazing thing 2020. And most recently again in 2021 and 2022 over the holidays and coaching had a bit of a dip, right? We weren't really paying too much attention to it for a while and now we are. It's making this resurgence in part thanks to you and your community in large part. But why is coaching in the workplace an important thing?

Because it is, you know, certainly something that we're seeing in the Government of Canada in the public service. But, but can you summarize for us a little bit what the main kinds of bonuses are associated with coaching if we get into a good coaching program?

France Hutchison: Yes. And maybe what I can add to this is the types of coaching that we can offer. Coaching is often understood as individual coaching, like one on one and in the workplace, specifically in our government, we see a lot of coaching being offered to executives. And the coaching summit, what we've tried to do is expand the audience, so offer coaching on an individual basis, by offering coaching conversations to employees at all levels. So that was the purpose of the coaching summit. So, we're seeing we're in the workplace one on one conversations. Normally there are external coaches, so they're not part of the organization and someone will hire a coach because they are perceived as trustful. You know, you don't have to report to them, they don't know the organization.

And you might feel that, you know, you are in the safe space, so the confidentiality issue is important. We're seeing more and more now coaching offered through peers. So, there are courses where people can attend actually at the Canada School Public Service, we were offering that peer coaching circles where people could learn the methodology of having those coaching conversations.

So, listening differently, questioning differently in a peer setting. So, group coaching is becoming more and more popular. What we are observing as well through the leadership programs. Yes, we are offering coaching services through individuals who are participating in the leadership programs. But what we are seeing more and more is people wanting to learn the methodology, learning at their level.

If there is a supervisor, manager, director, any level, they want to learn the principles so they can apply it in their team with their employees in the group or with individuals. So, this is a leadership competency that we're focusing on is, is transferring those skills of coaching to the leaders in the workplace.

Robert Armstrong: I love where we're going with this and I want to have a whole conversation around you know, that the idea of peer coaching and the rest of it. But I want to backtrack a bit because I think you identified an interesting thing in the public service, right? That historically coaching was seen as an executive kind of a service, right?

France Hutchison: Still is.

Robert Armstrong: And it still is. Yeah. Let's be honest. It's still often something that's, that we think of automatically as something we should be offering to executives. Why is that? What is it-because I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing, so, I think it's important for people to understand -why is it that coaching is often an executive kind of a service? What is it about their responsibilities that might, you know, require them to, to lean on coaches a bit more than the rest of us?

France Hutchison: It's probably because it's a cultural thing. I think it was, it was something that if you think about the progress of leaders how they enter the executive environment, a lot of them are on the fast track. So soft skills and learning to manage people is not always easy. Learning to manage different styles, different personalities and performing, asking the team to perform.

So, I think the leaders, executive leaders needed that support from the coaches. One of maybe the misconceptions, though, is that coaching can fix the leader in those areas. We're not fixing anyone.  We're just helping them through a fast-paced coaching program to build the skills or help them get unstuck in certain areas. I hear a lot of communication issues, a lot of challenges with performance with employees. So, leaders need to have this conversation in the safe space with someone who will bounce back ideas or will help them find their own solutions.

Robert Armstrong: So, I want to dig into that for a second because I know that you've been approached probably a thousand times in your career with somebody saying, you know, bringing somebody to you saying this person needs some coaching and you read between those lines and you realize there's an issue of some kind in their management style, perhaps in the way that they communicate with their employees. And somebody has decided that a coach is going to fix them, as you said. What's your reply? How do you approach that? Do you fix people?

France Hutchison: I wish I could. I would be paid so much if I could fix people, I would have a lot of contracts and a lot of participants. No, I'm joking. What I would like to say about that aspect, we are when you are an internal coach because we've explored external peer coaching, transferring the skills. There are also more and more now internal coaches in the organization who are helping leaders grow and having those one-on-one coaching conversations. Often senior management comes to the coach internally and says, "Hey, my employee or this person has or needs coaching, has this specific problem, needs coaching, can you fix them?" "Can you help them?" They don't say, "Can you fix them?" But you can read kind of between the lines. So, what I reply to them, is "Who I'm working for?

My client is never the senior management asking me to fix the person. My client or the participants that I'm working with and for are the coachee, is the coachee.  So, when you reframe that and you help the person requesting coaching, you need to explain that if the client is the participant, then the client needs to want the coaching.

Robert Armstrong: Right.

France Hutchison: So, the first coaching conversation is super important. So first what I do, Robert just to summarize it, educate people internally, what is coaching and what it's not, specifically that it's not a performance fixing solution. It can solve a lot of things, but it has to go through the participants desire to fix these things or to see that they have those situations arising. So, education and then getting a buy-in from the participant who's been tagged as needing coaching and then building the rapport and building the trust with the participants so that you can really offer them coaching.

Robert Armstrong: So, you've mentioned a few times France, that it's about growth, right? Rather than being fixed, it's about growing. And I really appreciate that distinction. I think it's key. So, for somebody who's a little bit nervous or reluctant or, you know, who doesn't have the self-awareness already, you know, quite fully how do you bring them to a space where they're ready to grow? If I can put it that way.

France Hutchison: The simple solution for that is to have this honest conversation with the person. So, bring them in the space of what do they want, what do they observe. I, as a coach have to raise everything that I know from this person and let the person talk. So, if the command was to fix this person in the conversation with the participants, I eliminate this piece of information so I can be fully dedicated and not tempted by the judgment of someone else's comments or anything else that could be tinting my conversation with the participant. So being fully, fully, fully transparent with the participants about my intention, what I'm observing and what I'm listening to, and basically get their feedback and get their momentum or information on what are they observing, what are they feeling, how they want to fix certain areas of their lives professionally, personally, because they're all interlinked.

So, the focus is really the person. So, I eliminate the, the initial request from, from the conversation and from there we build the plan, we build a structure of our conversation so they can meet their own objective. That's why setting the objective has to come from the participant, not from me and not from senior management. And normally it's a win-win situation Robert, it sounds like the participants is in control of everything but basically, they are normally really self-aware of what's not going well in certain areas.

Robert Armstrong: Sounds like work, though. You're, kind of identifying, you know, frequently here that it's a conversation and I'm gathering that there's actually work involved on the part of the person who's being coached. How do you deal with clients or people who are referred to you who might think that they're coming to you for training or for you to be giving/delivering them a bunch of good stuff and then walking away with that?

France Hutchison: And time is always a barrier because people will spend time in meetings focusing on the task, focusing on what they have to deliver. They don't see that spending that hour with the coach maybe once every two weeks or once a month will help them go faster in the long run. Yes, you have to spend time addressing these things that you're probably just pushing on the side and think that they will resolve by themselves. But the time spent with a coach is an investment, and it's basically also time where you will learn new models, learn new ways of having conversations.

And you actually through the questioning of the coach, you're able to probably use those questions in your own teams with your employees. So, it's always I always see coaching as also a way to transfer new ways of having conversation because they will learn new questions, they will learn the impact of the questions because they will sometimes feel that "aha moment" or that pause that made them think and reflect. And if I'm extrapolating Robert to what I'm hearing in the senior management sphere, because I've attended those meetings where they are talking about leadership competencies, talent management, how to bring diversity in the workplace, inclusion, they're thinking about how to do it but if they don't allow people to expose themselves to those conversation or finding new ways to have conversation, well, they will probably find that this coaching conversation will help them modernize the behaviours and the competencies that people want to they want to see from their employees. Meaning that if they have coaching conversation, they will probably be able to have the behaviours that senior managements are looking for because they live them.

Robert Armstrong: And part of it is having that own experience of being coached. Right and appreciating the value of it. I think it's, I think that's a really good point. So, we're in this weird phase right now where we're transitioning to, I think, a more openness to involve ourselves in coaching, to engage ourselves in coaching and you mentioned the peer coaching and the work that's being done there. Can you talk to us a little bit more about that and how it works? Because there are, of course, impressions out there that you have to be a certified coach, right? And that you really need to be qualified and trained in order to be a coach. And so now you're talking about peer coaching circles and opportunities like that.

How does that work? What does it take to get people ready to engage in those things without having that certification or that formal training?

France Hutchison: Normally, the first step is to live a coaching conversation with a coach in order to understand the distinction. So, if you're curious about coaching and you want to just see, you know, what's so different, I probably get there's a distinction between mentoring, coaching, managing, being also a consultant and so hiring someone to give you advice. You probably understand the distinction, but you don't really understand the impact it will have on you.

When I leave a coaching conversation, I leave with a lot of information, but I leave with a lot more reflection to be done. So, if you're curious about how you instill coaching or how do you instill that trust or that level of communication in your team, because I think we all want to reach that at one point in our career with our teams, there are many courses that, you know, introductory courses to coaching where you will live a coaching conversation in that training specific one day or two-day training, you will learn the impact of listening, but also the different levels of listening.  You can listen to information, you can listen to emotions, you can listen also to the non-verbal. You remember as you have experienced Robert, a situation where the person says something, but you know they will never do it.

Robert Armstrong: Yes, many times

France Hutchison: Okay. So passive aggressive.

Robert Armstrong: Guilty as charged, yes.

France Hutchison: Okay. So how do you unleash this? How do you express it? How do you demonstrate it? How do you question the person? So, they can be aware that what they're saying, they're not demonstrating the willingness to pursue it or the engagement to do it. So, through that, these levels of listening, you're able to then choose the right question to help the person, be aware, and then focus or grow or change their behaviour without you saying, "Hey, you said this, but I'm hearing this and you're completely wrong here and I don't trust you." See, there's this distinction. You let the person through the coaching conversation learn and learn about themselves and be more aware. So, in these courses, introductory courses, leaders, employees, anyone at any level, because this is not a course only for executives, it can be done by any person who is just curious about improving their communication, listening and questioning, improving their relationship as well.

So, these courses can really help you do that. And if you're super curious about the next steps and other models and how to help people grow even further, this is where maybe a certain certification from the ICF, International Coach Federation can be helpful, but it's not a mandatory thing because if you want to use coaching in your day-to-day life, use those little courses that can help you grow and use the power of open-ended questions. There's an amazing book that really changed my life and the title will say it is "Change Your Questions, Change Your Life". That, just that book, that title really made me understand that type of questions that you're using on a daily basis will have an impact on your decision-making process and how you behave.

Robert Armstrong: I want to talk about questions now because we've been kind of going around this for a bit. And I saw in a conversation, I think it was from one of the summits in the last couple of years there was a lovely distinction that was made where you go to your supervisor when you want to be told what to do, right? And so those questions that are very kind of direct, what should I do? Right. It's like, do I do it today or do I do it next week? Do I forward this to my director or not? Right? You go to a mentor or when you're looking for recommendations on what they might do, there's a little bit of a nuance there, but you might turn to your coach to have them ask you what you would like to do and explore why.

And so, we're getting into a whole other realm of questioning, right? So, you're talking about powerful questions I think, so can you give us a couple of examples of good questions that are asked in a coaching situation, questions that prompt and provoke and make that reflection take place?

France Hutchison: Absolutely. And the people who are being introduced to coaching, if a manager comes into the coaching course, they will see a lot of similarities between the types of question in project management

Robert Armstrong: Okay.

France Hutchison: And coaching. That's kind of the first layer, let me say that way. "So, what have you tried so far? Where are you at? What's your goal?" You know, these types of questions are easy to ask. When you are a coach, you want to bring a bit more awareness or help people being unstuck or just you know, choose different paths.

You're asking different kind of questions. The number one question I'm asking often is "What do you need in this session with me?" Often a lot of employees will come to your office with the same kind of questions, the same kind of challenges, and you will offer them either good questions or good advice. But they will come back the next week with the same level of questioning, the same level of struggles. You're not changing any behaviour here, see, because that people have the same pattern of coming back to them. So, a good coach will see this happening and they will probably first of all assess what the person needs. I need advice on something. I need help with this. I need more confidence in myself. I don't know how to start. Can you help me? So, they will probably express a lot of things here and then you can move to the second level of question is, "Okay, what do you want to achieve at the end of this session with me?" "So, what do you need?" "What do you want to achieve in 30 minutes?" Because you cannot solve, you know, the entire problem of the person in 30 minutes. Probably not. So, you want to focus on bits and pieces that will help the person move forward.

Robert Armstrong: So, let's stop here at the first question then. "What do you need in this session with me?" That's asking for somebody to become a little bit vulnerable, isn't it? Right, because normally at work we don't express our needs in a human sense. It's more like, you know, I need you to sign this, or I need approval or whatever. Do you know what I'm getting at?

France Hutchison: Yes. And it's task oriented. What you just described is really a need is oriented towards a task. And then when you see a certain repetitive behaviour and you feel that the person is stuck, you observe the behaviour. You really understand that the person is stuck but you can't say, "Hey, you're stuck. You've been in my office every week and you've been telling me the same problem."

Yeah. I mean, you can relay the facts, but you can't really put it that way. Because the person will feel, you know, they're not competent. So, you need to express.  The problem could be you as well as a leader.  It could be you not understanding what the employee is saying in your office, offering them a lot of good questions. But they don't match the desired need or the desired outcome that the person has for the conversation. So, you will be surprised, Robert, that, yes, it's probably not comfortable always to ask this question because people are not used to be to being asked, you know, "What do you need from me in this conversation?" They will say, probably, I need advice, I need this, I need always related to the task. "But what do you actually need in this session?" "I need more trust. I need more confidence; I need more help. I need support."

Robert Armstrong: My head just exploded because I think that's often what's happening, right? Because if you have an employee, for example, who is coming to you for approval on a regular basis, and if you dig beneath that a little bit and say, "What is it that you really need from me?", I think in some cases it's I need you to trust me, right? I need you to trust that I'm doing a good job and perhaps stop having to come for approvals at every juncture. That's a vulnerability that we're not really used to talking about, isn't it?

France Hutchison: We're not used to it. And this is where I would love to see more training happening is a lot more comfort in having those conversations because if there are more trust, if there are more trustful a conversation, employees will you know, they will not lie as much, they will not hide the problems that they have as much. They will not blame as many others because I hear a lot of blame. Blame the organization, blame the colleague, blame the budget, blame the lack of resource, blame the lack of time. I mean, if you're hearing blame, it means there's probably a need not met or a need to redefine what needs to be done here. Does a person need more appreciation? Does she need more approval? Or does she need more time with someone who can support them in the delivery a certain aspect, but the person is not expressing it that way?

They will probably blame others. So, see how just addressing the need question or spending time there will help people understand themselves a bit better.

Robert Armstrong: And it's really about other needs than material needs, isn't it? A lot of the time because it's not that I need you to sign off on this. It is a relational need underneath all of that.

France Hutchison: Yes. And you will see that the need question will even be more relevant now because we're probably going to be asked to return to work soon. Yes. A lot of anxiety, a lot of complexity will arise. It's a shifting situation. We're pivoting now to another reality. People will want to express their needs. What they will want, and you will need to create as leaders is that space for the conversation.

It does not mean that you have to agree as well with the person when you ask this question, the answer, you don't have to agree with it, but at least let the person explore that space so you can have a mutual understanding.

Robert Armstrong: And sometimes it's not the manager or the coach for that matter, who can meet the needs. Right? It's more an organizational conversation that needs to follow.

France Hutchison: Absolutely. And if it's serving at least one person, you always have to keep in mind that the coaching conversation belongs to the coachee, the participant. So, it just maybe that question will help them understand and assess their own needs. Probably haven't been spending time there.

Robert Armstrong: Well, and maybe we don't, right? In big organizations with all of the busyness and the work involved where we're preoccupied with all of the tasks, as you say, and we're not really conditioned to think about our needs necessarily. So maybe those coaching conversations are a good way to get it done.

France Hutchison: And if we think about all the leadership problems that we have, our management problems that we're facing right now, I'm hearing a lot about engagement, motivation, and helping people being more strategic. Well, these conversations and these questions will help people build that new muscle or that strength being more strategic, more aware, more trustful, more confident, more engaged, more motivated.

Robert Armstrong: And so, imagine that I'm a leader and I have a management team that's, you know, progressive and thinking about these coaching conversations and wants to engage in this a little bit. More with them. How can I make that happen? What's the best way or what might be a better way to go about liberating space to allow my team to get this stuff going?

France Hutchison: Beside the individual coaching. What I'm focusing now in my career, after 24 years of testing a lot of individual coaching and peer coaching, now my focus is on systemic coaching. So, what's that? Yeah, systemic coaching what I like about it is that you help the person, you help people work together and you help them in the system. So, if you're a leader who wants to, you know, understand more about the impact of coaching in their teams or in your team, you will probably ask a coach to come and do a bit of a facilitation of team meetings.

Okay. And you and the facilitator, the coach will help you deliver the content of your meeting, but with a coaching lens, with the coaching way, with a coaching practice. I hear a lot of leaders use the same kind of agenda and way to deliver the, you know, the content of the meeting. And what I'm hearing on the.

Robert Armstrong: Touching a nerve here. I don't get too excited about meetings. Yeah, okay.

France Hutchison: I've listened well, you see, you're not alone. I hear a lot of people say, you know what, this meeting is boring. This is just a top-down thing. I'm not even involved. I don't even know what I'm supposed to do there. I'm just listening, and I'm actually wasting my time. Yeah. If you want to spin things around, if you want to engage your employees in that conversation, you need to change the way you lead the coach, the conversation, and the right way to do this, Robert, is so simple is to just use different kinds of questions and let people talk.

Robert Armstrong: But what if I don't get all that stuff transmitted through my meeting? You're right. I'm sensing that there's some nervousness around this. Tell us more about this, because you're turning the meeting upside down for me right now.

France Hutchison: I'm actually. Yeah, absolutely. It's the meeting belongs to the employee. If you and believe there's a space for top-down kind of meetings where you need to deliver information and employees will be passive listeners or listeners. But if you really want to engage and I'm hearing a lot specifically in the virtual I'm hearing a lot of silence not knowing how to engage people and not knowing how to seek participation.

So, this is where systemic coaching can help. It's because it's helping the team grow together through questioning. So, I would often just be the facilitator who would follow the structure of the meeting of the of the leader of that team but would probably plug in the agenda specific moments where questions opening questions will allow people to participate to elaborate, to ask questions, to comment, but to comment with also a specific spin in coaching.

What I did not say, Robert, is that we have rules.

Robert Armstrong: Sure.

France Hutchison: Specific rules where we don't judge. So, we listen without judgment. We respect others. We let others talk and we limit the interruption, and we allow everybody to speak. So, these rules, that's a kind of a peer coaching circle kind of rule setting. I'm bringing this as well, in the facilitation of the group coaching session. What it does, it helps modelize the behaviour that we want to see happening.

And we bring people in that space where they're feeling more and more comfortable through that expression. Because a lot of people are not comfortable expressing themselves in those settings because there are multi levels of management. They are peers, there's competition, there's performance, there's so many things there. So that's why people are normally silent.

Robert Armstrong: You anticipated where we wanted to go with this because I love that idea. I think it's brilliant where we can bring our meetings to a different level of engagement by asking those questions and by being better listeners and by inviting everybody to involve themselves to the degree that they wish. But it's a little frightening, right? I think a lot of people aren't used to that idea that this is their meeting, as you said.

I mean, that's revolutionary in itself. So how can we bring people to feel more comfortable in participating? Because as much as we deny this, we're all posturing a little bit, right? None of us want to look dumb or ill-informed or not like we're carrying our own weight. So how do we strip that stuff away from it so that we can all genuinely be involved in that conversation, as you're describing it?

France Hutchison: It takes time and it takes it takes time and practice. And that's why I'm dedicating my time to facilitating those conversation. Because when you are normally the leader, you don't have time to learn the methodology, learn to perfect questions, and you need help. You need support from someone who will help the team grow. And they can probably do that.

A facilitator, who's also a coach, can help the team also learn different models different, different tools that can help them work better together. So, it's not easy. It's something that takes a bit more time but if it's integrating in the type of work that you're doing, you're not spending a full day doing strategic thinking and doing outside of the box kind of training session, which I love doing it, but sometimes you don't have that luxury of time, so you need to find creative ways to integrate coaching in your group, in your team, and help people also be comfortable with the methodology.

Robert Armstrong: You just mentioned something that took me back in time because I remember the days. I know you do too, when management teams would once a year, maybe twice, go off and do their retreats right? And that was the kind of privileged time to go off as a group and do their strategic thinking. Right. And in order to like to think ahead and plan and have those moments scripted or not.

But we can't do that anymore. All working at home during the pandemic and afterwards. I'm not sure if all of us will be able to get together. So, I'm thinking maybe there's a place for this to happen as a regular practice in our kind of ordinary lives as a team so that we don't feel the need to go off and do that again.

Am I right to think that?

France Hutchison: Absolutely. And this is actually systemic coaching. It means, okay, it's sustainable, something that you are maintaining. It's not just one course, once a year or more, one brainstorm session or strategic thinking exercise once a year, and then you tick or you just say, done, not done. What I like about the type of coaching, systemic coaching that I am observing and I'm learning and I'm seeing more and more of that approach now in the workplace is that it helps people through psychometric tools, learn who they are as well, learn their preference, their learning style, their leadership style.

There's all kinds of tools you can bring to the table and people will learn who they are. So, you build the self-awareness piece and then you draw the picture of the team, what it looks like based on the type of tool that you're using so people can understand the distinction, but they learn also to respect the different styles.

And at the leadership level, leaders will understand the kind of team that they have, the pitfalls that they may fall into but the strength of their team. And if they need to compensate because there are some weaknesses, it's also a kind of an exercise where they might think of hiring different kinds of people, hiring different personalities to complement what they're observing in the team.

So, what I like about this, if I can just say one key message about coaching is that start thinking with building the strengths of people not focusing on the weaknesses. And that's what a coach does. It sees the potential, it sees the strengths, it helps people focus, it helps a person achieve because they understand where they're going, because they have a goal, and they understand themselves better.

So, they can be more agile, be more flexible, because they accept who they are, but they also accept who others are around them.

Robert Armstrong: And I like that idea of complementarity, right? Because none of us can be all things to all people and to all issues. And so, you know, and whether it's a weakness or a gap, however I phrase it, somebody else can complement that gap. But you've, I think, coaching into a whole different conversation than some of our audience members might have expected, because I do believe that a lot of us think that coaching is that one on one conversation that it is.

It's a personal relationship that builds and I become better in myself, and I grow and it's often available to us through career services, for example. So, it's about, you know, making this step in my career and moving up and whatever. But here we're talking about the organization, right? And the benefits that teams have through coaching.

So, you've really, I think, brought it into a different level of conversation. Do you think we're ready for it? And if you don't, you don't have to name anybody, but can you think of organizations that are, in your experience, more ready than others? And what is it that makes them readier more than others?

France Hutchison: Yes. The level of readiness will depend on the level of awareness of senior management. Okay. Because it's still a top down you know, an organization. You need to find a budget, you need to. But I see a lot more people now living the coaching and wanting to bring it to their team. The reason why I've shifted from individual coaching to systemic coaching is because I was seeing a lot of changes and individual basis, but people still felt stuck when they returned to work or with their colleagues.

And I was spending a lot of time trying one on one to change the world. And so, I was I was helping people really achieve a lot. But when they returned to work, they were saying, you know, what? Can you teach this to my superior? Can you teach this to my peers because right now it's a nightmare in the office?

So, this is where systemic coaching can really help. So more than ever, I see a lot of organization bringing that leader as a coach kind of training.

Robert Armstrong: Yeah.

France Hutchison: So, more and more managers, supervisors, executives are learning the methodology. So, they can apply it with employees. It does not mean that they're not managing them anymore. They still have to wear that hat and they still have to assess the performance of their team or employees. But if they feel there are certain repetitive behaviours, if they feel that the person comes to their office with the same kind of problem, and that's normally a sign when you see that the way you lead your people is not having the positive impact that you want to have, it means you need to change yourself first, change the way you lead them.

Robert Armstrong: Interesting. I'm going to sports now for some reason because, you know, there's coaching in sports and then and it's a model that's similar, but there are lots of differences. But I'm now thinking that it's true that really High-Performing teams have coaches. The coach the team and that work with the team. But then individual players sometimes have their own individual coaches for those separate needs that aren't necessarily needing to involve the team.

So, could we do the same thing in our organization and have coaches of all different kinds involved to make us superstars?

France Hutchison: Absolutely. And what you don't know about me, Robert, is that I've after I was 40, I decided to change. When I turned 40, I decided that change a few behaviours that I had, and I do my triathlon.

Robert Armstrong: Are you kidding me? Tell us more.

France Hutchison: Triathlons. I decided to do a triathlon. My sister died of cancer. She was only 35. And that journey was just a certain difficult time. A lot of this tough decision, and I needed a lot of coaching at that time. But when I turned that 40, I decided that health was becoming more and more one of my priorities.

And I needed to also a certain level of challenge. So, I said, why not triathlon? 182km of biking. I've got an 80 kilometre of biking. Well, first it's a four kilometres swim, you know, after that the biking and then the marathon. Yeah. And then I said, you know, what, I don't even know how to swim. What do we do?

So, this is where a coach can come in and tell you it's kind of more a mentor at that time because I meant it's kind of, they call them a coach, but it's more acting like a mentor because they tell you the drill, how to do things, how to improve your swim. So, they give you the technique.

Robert Armstrong: Yeah.

France Hutchison: Where the coach comes in. The word coach comes in is when you have those moments of doubt.

Robert Armstrong: Hmm.

France Hutchison: When you need to refocus, when you need to continue, even if it's hard. In training there's a moment where if you don't eat well enough, if you don't ingest enough calories in your discipline, you will what you call bunk. You know, you're like, good you will just be so tired. You will almost fall asleep. In these tough moments this is where you need support and help.

And I see the coach as a huge supporter of your objectives, of your performance. Have your strengths and this is where. Yes, absolutely. Anyone who wants to have a challenge or an objective that they want to achieve, and they need support and help and actually someone who believes in them, this is where the coach can come in.

Robert Armstrong: Well, okay. So, we were talking about growth, right? Yes. The whole conversation about coaching it's around growth. But it's a lovely thing that you just said that the coach has to believe in the person. But doesn't that also imply that the person has to believe in themselves?

France Hutchison: Yes. And this is where the coach could spend a bit of time. You know, there are so many coaching topics that we can have some might be trust in ourselves, fears, transition. A lot of conversation I'm seeing happening in the workplace are related to transition. I've been offered this position. Am I my ready? I have my family; I have young kids.

I have to juggle with a lot of priorities. I have a family member who has sickness. I have to take care of them. So, a lot of conversation could happen in those areas of fears of also defining what do you really want?

Robert Armstrong: I love that. Yeah.

France Hutchison: Because often we have a lot of opportunities, and we can make those quick decisions. We're used to make those quick decisions in the workplace, but at one point in our lives we are wondering, why did I choose this? Well, why do it? Why did I made that decision to move, not to move? And this is where you need that certainty, and you need to know yourself.

These are the types of conversation you can have with a coach, and they will not judge you.

Robert Armstrong: And isn't that wonderful, right? Because you can achieve a certain clarity in a judgement-free, respectful relationship, and ultimately, it's up to you to implement and put things into action. Isn't that right? Because it's a conversation around it. It's not the actual doing of it. That's the coaching piece.

France Hutchison: Yes. The only area that the coach might challenge you, though, is if you committed to do something because you so you wanted it and through the coaching conversation or the next conversation, the person does not even do anything about it.

Robert Armstrong: Well, so can my coach call me out then? Is that a role that they can play and put my feet to the fire and hold me to?

France Hutchison: Absolutely. The coach will not the coach will not judge the action of not doing anything. They will seek information on the reasons that you're not, maybe not maybe aware of it. But a lot of people will blame time again, I don't have time. I had other things. So, if you don't choose yourself, the coach might call you on that specific angle, say, hey, you've committed to this.

You want to achieve this. You have it's, you know, some steppingstones. In order to achieve that, they will ask you the questions. If coaches are not challenging you, well, you'll probably be in a comfortable zone too long, if they're not doing it.

Robert Armstrong: And isn't that an interesting thing to bring into the workplace when we're talking about performance management? Right? So rather than telling somebody that they didn't do something or asking them why they didn't do it, you can ask them questions about how it is that that didn't come about to take place or get achieved?

France Hutchison: And you probably have a more honest answer if you just ask the question about why, why didn't you do this? Which puts the person in a situation of, you know, being scared .

Robert Armstrong: Yes. Then you put them on the defensive automatically, don't you?

France Hutchison: Defensive.

Robert Armstrong: Yeah. Excellent. So, I think I'm looking at coming to an end in our conversation. I have a few more questions, but I think the biggest one is this, what makes an organization ripe for this to happen? It I suspect it has something to do with leadership, but I suspect also it has to do with the employees.

But can you just give us the quick list of key ingredients? What do I need in my organization to bring coaching in and make it work?

France Hutchison: If I'm using the coaching lens in order to ask to answer your question, areas where people should be paying attention is, are my people happy at work or are my people staying here? How is talent management being used or being not used? What's the word I'm looking for?

Robert Armstrong: How is your talent being put in, put to best use, perhaps?

France Hutchison: How am I using the talent that I have, or do I know the talent that I have in my organization? The other one would be the level of readiness is also based on the priorities that you're setting for your organization. We're thinking about diversity, inclusion, a lot of activities there, a lot of initiatives there. We're thinking also about mental health.

Yeah. If you had one solution and that's probably one of the pitfalls of the coaching as well, is that coaching can be in all of those areas. You can see them in leadership, you can use it in mental health through peer coaching or peer circles. Or one on one conversation, or to support people and help them get unstuck or build their awareness.

You can use it in talent management, different talent management initiatives. You can use it in all kinds of learning pieces because you're teaching people how to use coaching the coaching principles.  So, if you're thinking about what your organization needs and what you've tried so far, the worst thing you can do is repeat what has not been working well for you.

So, if you're still struggling with these areas and you want to use an innovative approach an innovative approach that you can integrate in the work not as an extra piece, coaching or systemic coaching can be really, really useful. So, I'm basically asking senior management or anyone in the organization to see what has been happening in the past and are they ready to shift and pivot?

And if the word is yes, if they want to try something new, some new way of working in the organization, and through hiring either executive coaches or internal coaches or offering coaching circles or more training, I think these four things can be really well integrated in organization. It does not cost much as well.

Robert Armstrong: And it seems like the investments is worth it. I'm thinking that for, you know, some very simple outlay at the beginning, you end up with such great benefits over the longer term.

France Hutchison: And there's a lot of links to be made with performance. So, if you're thinking this time spent in the conversation is a waste of time. It has been demonstrated through multiple, multiple statistics, reports and everything that coaching helps people with their performance, with their communication, also with their level of engagement and just basically their level of happiness.

Robert Armstrong: And in this moment where we're focused on workplace wellness, mental health in the workplace, all the rest of it, in addition to our constant preoccupations with productivity and good team dynamics, why not give coaching a try and put it in there? Yeah.

France Hutchison: Absolutely.

Robert Armstrong: I really enjoy talking to you France because as I mentioned at the beginning, I do feel like you are the key person in the whole ecosystem team of coaching in the public service and it's a pleasure to have you in discussion today. We've talked a lot about listening and questioning and conversation, and these are things that I don't know we spend enough time on in the public service because we're busy administering our budgets, delivering our programs, and doing our jobs.

So, I really feel privileged and honoured to have the opportunity to have had questions and listening in conversation with you today. And it is about growth, as you said. So, I'm glad to have had my opportunity to grow with you today. And I hope our audience can also benefit from thinking a little bit about their own growth and their team's growth and their organization's growth by having a look at coaching and seeing what it might be able to do for them.

Last word to you, France

France Hutchison: I'd like to just mention that I'm not alone, even if I'm pushing a lot of the word coaching in the workplace and systemic coaching in government of Canada. There are more than 300 coaches in our network. We have a pool of external and internal coaches and so far, we have about 150 internal coaches who identify themselves who are working in probably silos or in silent somewhere in their different organization.

But if I can speak for them, they are passionate people. They love the impact that they can have on people, on their growth and they're willing to just, you know, help and do something in their organization.

Robert Armstrong: So where can the audience find those amazing people? Where's the best place to look for them?

France Hutchison: We have a channel on GC collab. It's the Government of Canada Coaching Network.

Robert Armstrong: So, the Government of Canada Coaching Network on GC collab.

France Hutchison: Yes. So far that's the channel we have and always open for email.

Robert Armstrong: There we go. So that's a France Hutchison, one of Canada's free agents and currently at the Treasury Board Secretariat. So, she's working in the belly of the beast. What a great place to have you. I'm so happy that you're working in the center France after spending those years contributing at the Canada School of Public Service prior to that. Pleasure as always to see you.

I hope to see you on screen sometime soon at another coaching summit or on the channel to learn more about all the various aspects of coaching, whether it's one on one peer coaching or systemic coaching. It's awfully valuable to all of us. And thanks, everybody for being with us today. It's been a pleasure. Thank you, France; Merci!

France Hutchison: Special thanks to you. Thanks for having me.

Robert Armstrong: So that's France Hutchison. What a delight to talk about coaching today. For a related Canada School of Public Service content, do visit the website. We have two virtual classroom courses entitled Leading a Peer Coaching Conversation, something we just talked about. That's course TRN401 used to be D100. Another course is coaching for effective leadership TRN402, which used to be D101, a very popular course.

Leading a Peer Coaching Conversation explores using that coaching approach to lead pure coaching conversations in that group setting. Of course, participants learn how to develop their listening and questioning skills, as we've discussed, to facilitate collaboration among colleagues.  And coaching for effective leadership enables learners regardless of level. Anybody can take this course to learn how to adopt a coaching approach as a powerful way to connect with others and of course, lead more effectively.

Thrive offers a learning journey for leaders at all levels, and we invite you to explore our virtual classroom courses and job aids to empower you and your teams to better navigate and of course, thrive within a human centered, dynamic and evolving environment. Again, thank you France! Merci!

Government of Canada Coaching Network link on GCcollab: GoC Coaching Network : GCcollab


Any views or opinions presented in this podcast are solely of the individuals themselves and do not necessarily represent those of the School or the Government of Canada.

  • Robert Armstrong, Regional Manager, HR Programs, Atlantic Region, Public Services and Procurement Canada / Government of Canada
  • France Hutchison, Executive Coach and Talent Management Advisor, Transport Canada/ Government of Canada

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