Coaching, More Than a Fad

I talk about coaching almost daily- in leadership workshops, in one on one sessions, in meetings with students, in NGOs, in corporations, in casual coffee talks. Coaching has long ago crossed the border of my professional life and is filling up my existence in surprising ways. I sometimes get calls from my closest friends telling me: “Alis, I have a problem, I don’t want your advice, I need coaching”. Other times I find myself coaching Viorel, or he coaching me and, contrary to what the “norm” says (to avoid coaching your life partner) we, as a couple, have grown immensely from such earnest and non-judgemental conversations. They helped us become, separately and together, wiser and more self-aware. My relationship with coaching started over six years ago in bitter disappointment. I was keen to better understand what this fuss about coaching was all about, so I enrolled in a course – one of the few available on the Romanian market at that time. I got a lot of materials to read, I attended a few days’ workshop, where I listened trainers talking about techniques, types of questions, models, standards, ethics, process – concepts which I largely found cold and sterile. They talked more about ways to make money from coaching than about what coaching really was or how one could become a great coach. I was already working as a professional corporate trainer, I loved my job, I had no motivation to learn coaching just to make more money. I was keen to learn because I had an intuition that it might help me to reach people’s hearts and make a difference through my work. I left that course with a bitter taste, but also with a feeling that there was more to coaching than I had been shown thus far – I just needed to get that information from somewhere or someone else. Then, one year later, I met Sir John Whitmore. The man is a legend. Many consider him one of the founding fathers of...

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The Heroes You Won’t See in the News

Aug 24, 14 The Heroes You Won’t See in the News

Posted by in Leadership

I have just come back from Tărlungeni, a village near Brașov, which, until a couple of months ago, I had never heard about but which now has a very special place in my heart. For more than 5 weeks it has been hosting the largest camp for leadership in education ever organised in Romania – Teach for Romania’s Leadership Summer Academy – they are part of the international network Teach for All. 21 young teachers; over 50 volunteer trainers who worked with them; more than 600 hours of classroom teaching delivered to over 200 students who volunteered to come to school in the middle of summer holiday; over 12 hours of teaching, learning, mentoring, feedback and reflection every day for each teacher, over 6 weeks. The team from Teach for Romania, who worked day and night to make all of this possible, has a mere 11 members. These 21 teachers (primary and secondary school) are getting ready to go and teach, starting September, in disadvantaged schools all over the country. The NGO Teach for Romania will offer them support (including financial) to allow them to go off on the biggest adventure of their lives – changing the destinies of children whom nobody today is giving any changes. They will teach Rroma children, children whose parents are working abroad and who are being raised by relatives, poor children whose families can barely afford keeping them in school. They will teach in circumstances that are hard to imagine. And they are doing all of this because they believe that the education in Romania can and will change and that change starts in the classroom. I had two workshops with the teachers over the past two days. I laughed, I cried, my heart beat fast and my soul filled with joy and wonder at their unbelievable passion for “their kids”. “I dream of them at night” – one teacher was telling me, her eyes shining. Teach for Romania rigorously selected the best and brightest for this program, both professionally and character-wise. A...

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Life in Fear. Life in Love. Or, the power of Blue.

Some time ago I received a short email with perhaps one of the most profound messages I had read in a while. It came from one of my clients, a manager in a large company, with whose team I had just spent a very special day. It was a day when a group of very professional business people, serious, intelligent, highly performant and competitive took off their corporate masks and allowed themselves to be just human – beautiful, sensitive, vulnerable, imperfect and amazingly authentic. It was a day when I used the psychometric instruments from Human Synergistics to measure the way these people interacted within the team and start a long discussion about the attitudes we can have towards one another – aggressive (red), passive (green) or constructive (blue). We talked about how aggressiveness and passivity, both consequences of fear, are two ways we humans have learnt, at a very young age, to protect ourselves. Constructivism, on the other hand, is rooted in trust and goodwill and is a drive we all had in our first years of life, but which we  forgot once too many layers of negative experiences have polluted the innocence of our childhood. Every time I explain to a group the mechanisms of fear and trust I realise it’s hard to find the perfect words and metaphors which would give meaning to the message, particularly when the audience is hyper-rational. I hear, in the business environment, all sorts of well-intended questions which are very hard to answer without becoming too abstract: “Why would it be better for us to stop competing amongst ourselves – competition drives results, doesn’t it?”; “What’s in it for me if I decide to help another rather than act in my own best interest?”; “How can we still achieve great outcomes in a hyper-competitive world if we have other people’s best interest at heart?”; “Altruism and profit can really go hand in hand?”; “Can I trust others and give up control without taking the risk of being disappointed...

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Authenticity, Trust and Following Your Heart

Last week I stood in front of around 150 students and spoke about authenticity. Today I stood in front of about the same number of managers in a large company, speaking about trust. Both times I felt completely connected with the subject and with my audience and had this very deep feeling that what I was saying to them was truly meaningful for me too. Now, thinking of the learnings from these two events I just realised how much my life has changed over the past two years because of these two simple words: authenticity and trust. Just over two years ago I was a corporate employee with many reasons for gratitude. The money was good, the job was nice – I was doing what I like best – creating and delivering workshops – and I was surrounded by a team of like-minded people, some of which I was and still am happy to call friends. Still I was miserable. I was dreading every single morning when that horrendous alarm clock would ring and make me reluctantly get out of bed for the dawn of a new day “at the office”. If asked, I could describe what I was so unhappy about: I disliked the rules and fixed schedules, the somber offices, the deadlines and procedures, the power-point templates that forbade me to put funny pictures in my slides. I hated the very idea of a dress code and, more than once, I received a warning from HR for shamelessly breaking it and wearing blue jeans at work. I definitely dreaded having to be there on time in the morning and leaving at a fixed time in the evening. I was saddened by the serious people all around me, seldom smiling, never seeming to have fun doing their jobs. I had a hard time sitting in meetings, doing “official” presentations and I could never really find my words when I had to speak “corporate”. But well beneath all these complaints that I had, there was...

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We Are the Champions! Or…Are We?

I haven’t written about competitiveness in a long time. I haven’t thought about it as often as I used to. But recently I was reminded why I turned my back on the subject in the first place. And, as usual, I’d like to share my insights with you. Many people think that competitiveness, that is, striving to be the best in your field, is a healthy and desirable trait. Our education teaches us it is so, our society encourages us to behave so. However, few understand there is a dark side to competitiveness, a trap that many fall into without even realizing. That dark side is “over-competitiveness”. When the desire to be among the best turns into obsession, you are in big trouble. I could write a long long article on why competitiveness is dangerous in the first place and why it’s not generating the high achievement rate one might expect. I could spend hours arguing that, although they are often found together, high performance and competitiveness are not necessarily connected, or at least not in the way most people think them to be. Being competitive does not necessarily ensure high performance. And vice versa – not caring about competition does not, by any means, imply you’ll end up mediocre. But that is a discussion for another article. For now, I’d just like to point out what happens when our competitiveness is driving our behavior. There are a few dangers that, in my view, we expose ourselves to when we get too competitive, and these I’d like to share with you. 1. Too much competitiveness may lead to arrogance and self-sufficiency Believe me, I’ve learned this one on my own. I used to be extremely competitive, obsessing about being on top of my class, about being the best in everything, all the time. This made me blind to countless opportunities for learning from others, which I dismissed with an air of superiority, simply because I considered myself smarter and more knowledgeable than those people...

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The Dream Bubble

I spent all of last week in a dream bubble. Actually, the bubble in this picture was really present at the scene. It’s a soap bubble Bogdan Grigore captured with his magic hand and eye on the 4th day of CROS Camp 2012 – Playing. I’ve written about CROS Camp last year, in August. Then, it was a two day experiment that I had agreed to undertake. I thought I was going to deliver a speech and a workshop to students on a summer camp. I was wrong. I was about to experience something that would completely turn around the way I looked at my life. After those two days I made some very difficult choices that I had been postponing for a long time. As a result, I let go of those parts of me which no longer fit. I said goodbye to people who no longer walked the same path as I. I welcomed other people who inspired me and made me wiser. Among those people are my friends from CROS. A year went by and I returned to CROS Camp a changed person – more centered, more at peace with myself. This time I wasn’t in a hurry, I didn’t stay for just two days, but for the whole week. I decided to offer myself the full experience of a place and a community where everything seems to be possible and no dream seems unreachable. As the days went by, I felt as if I were in a dream bubble, growing stronger and brighter by the day – a parallel universe where friendship, openness, curiosity, fun and kindness rule. This universe has few rules, plenty of freedom and is populated by people who tend not to take themselves too seriously because they understand that responsibility and fun can go very well together. The recipe seems simple enough: take about 100 young people, all with their own histories and life experiences which they decided to share with others, and bring them together in...

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