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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About learning and why I love my job

Yesterday evening I spent more than two hours with a group of young people from Romania’s first Alternative University. It’s the second year when I am hosting a 2.0 Course in this amazing community of curious and eager for knowledge people. The theme? “Self-awareness”. If you wonder what a course on self-awareness looks like, the answer is simple- it has little to do with what we learnt in our school years that a course “should” be – a set of  information you need to memorise and then reproduce as good as possible. A 2.0 Course is a journey. There is no compulsory attendance. No grades. There is a series of informal meetings in which, starting from participants’ objectives, I suggest topics for debate. I offer them information which we discuss and analyse together. I recommend books. We talk about neuroscience, psychology, spirituality. We approach “self-discovery” from as many angles as possible, always aware that no perspective, as appealing as it may be, ever represents the absolute truth. From one meeting to another they take on new topics for thought and experimentation. They test the information they received. They challenge it. They prepare more and more questions for our next meeting. My purpose is to challenge them to think, to doubt, to test, to dig inside of themselves. If, in the end, they leave with some answers and even more questions than they had when we first met, then I believe it was a success. Last night, leaning into my good old friend, the flip-chart, I experimented a moment of pure joy. The joy of offering all my energy and receiving theirs in exchange. Unlike many of my “corporate” workshops, where people come skeptical and wait for me to convince them that the experience will hold value for them, young people come to 2.0 Courses because they chose to be there. They are just starting their journey through life, they are convinced that anything is possible and they have very few inner barriers and very little...

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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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Traditional Learning is Dead. Long Live Brain-Friendly Learning!

The idea for this post came to me after a recent discussion with a group of participants in one of my workshops. It all happened last week, when I facilitated a “Communication Skills” workshop for a group of professionals in the financial field. The course was a mixture of behavioral science, sales techniques and presentation skills, aimed at giving attendants the tools and techniques to successfully sell their ideas to a group of  clients. I quickly found that my participants were  particularly concerned  with the “presentation skills” part of the seminar, because speaking in public and getting their message across to a group of potentially reluctant customers was a major source of worry for them. They all had sat through too many mind-numbing presentations in their lifetime, and the last thing they wanted was to take the place of those nightmarish presenters that had wasted countless precious hours of their time and whose ideas they had forgotten 5 minutes after the presentation  finished. Together, we tried to answer a few thorny questions: How do you get people’s attention? Even more importantly, how do you keep that attention? And, to top it off, how do you get them to remember your message and differentiate yourself from a host of other presenters whose messages compete with yours to get a prime spot in your clients’ memories? These questions led us to a very interesting discussion about how our brains process information and how far most presenters, public speakers and teachers are from delivering brain-friendly presentations that we may enjoy, remember and act on afterward. The principles by which our brain processes information are wonderfully synthesized  by John Medina in his book, “Brain Rules“, where he talks about discoveries that have started to revolutionize the way we teach or present our ideas to others. To mention just a few: The brain likes to learn through stories and metaphors rather than abstract concepts Our brains like stories more than anything. It’s not by chance that, as children, we...

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Iceberg Theory or How to Teach an Old Dog New Tricks

Dec 20, 10 Iceberg Theory or How to Teach an Old Dog New Tricks

Posted by in Training

That old saying that “one can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is proven wrong by the latest research in neuroscience.  Even though it was believed that people are born with a fixed number of neurons that they lose progressively throughout their lifetime, research in the past 10 years has shown that to be a myth. We grow new neurons and form new connections well into old age, provided that we constantly expose our brain to learning and novelty.  Human beings are much more versatile than it was previously believed. We actually never stop evolving. However, even though it’s a proven fact that people are capable of change, they just don’t seem to change in the way we want them to. As anyone who ever tried talking their partner or child or colleague at work out of a bad habit knows, changing others’ behaviors can be a daunting task. And if that wasn’t enough, we all know that changing our own behavior is no easier feat either. So why can’t we shape the behavior of those around us to our own liking? The answer to this question has been preoccupying me for some time now. Since my job is all about helping people in organizations grow and change for the better, I’m directly interested in the subject. While skill training is still the method of choice for shaping people’s behavior at work, all research shows it has very limited impact. People come to a workshop, learn about best practices in effective communication, or managing others, or successful negotiation techniques, or what have you and then …they go back to their daily jobs and nothing changes. They still lose  their temper when dealing with their colleagues and their customers, they still criticize too much, despite having learned how to give constructive feedback. As a trainer I found this really frustrating. My mission is to help people change and I felt as if I was failing miserably! So I’ve set out to find out why that...

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