In my last post I talked about a client who had been unaware of a serious problem perceived by his boss. Of course it’s not uncommon that a CEO has a perspective as yet unavailable to others in their organisation. A leader being informed of a deficit is often the kick-off point for some coaching.

Coaching often starts this way, with the client in what can be called the ‘Unaware Stage’.  They then progress, through feedback, to the Aware Stage. When clients come directly to a coach, they’re clearly already aware of at least some of their challenges.

One of the things a coach will do is help a client integrate this awareness and then progress from the Aware Stage into the next phase – the Trigger Aware stage. Let me give an example that many may recognise.

I was coaching a finance director.  She was a strong leader, with a good reputation in the business.  She not only got great results, but did so with really high engagement with her team. She also had good stakeholder relationships. So where was the problem? Her ‘strength’ all but disappeared when presenting.

A great question to ask is “Is this a full-time or a part-time problem?”

Usually, it’s a part-time problem and that means there is likely to be an external trigger or triggers that cause the unhelpful state to occur.

This was a part-time problem.

When did it happen? When she was presenting to the CEO and her team.

Had this always been a problem?  No it hadn’t. She didn’t have the issue with the last CEO.

There was something about this CEO in particular, that was triggering the unhelpful state.

Three things were useful to do here:

  1. Identify the trigger(s). 
What was it about this CEO in particular that triggered this lack of confidence? Was the context different from before?

We nailed what the triggers were so my client was fully Trigger Aware’.

  1. Resourcefulness.  
We worked on being more resourceful in the face of that trigger. What were the things that she could do, before and during these interactions, such that the trigger had a neutral or positive effect instead of a negative one?
  2. Progress to the next stage.  
We moved on to the next stage, and that’s ‘Internal Process-Aware’ – identifying what was going on internally within my client that was causing the lack of confidence, and developed new strategies and distinctions.

I don’t do therapy and most coaches don’t. I won’t ask a client to get on a couch and tell me about their childhood! However, what is productive is becoming aware of decisions that clients make early on in life that are playing out right now. Especially those that trigger them into less useful states. I must emphasise that we don’t explore the incidents that caused those decisions to be made in the past. That’s in the therapeutic realm and as a coach, I’m just identifying those decisions that are playing out unconsciously right now in the present.

It’s not always necessary or even desirable to move on to this next stage, but working on internal processes helps the client evolve and grow as a leader and as a human being. This model of Unaware > Aware > External Trigger Aware > Internal Process Aware needs to be attributed to the therapist Kim Barta. His model goes further if you’re doing therapy but stops here for coaching. Even though the model comes from therapy it’s great for coaches, or for managers taking an employee at least one step on from feedback.

Helping clients develop awareness around external triggers that cause less resourceful states, and developing new strategies is another example of coaching adding significant value. So ask yourself, what triggers you?

Executive Coach Gregor Findlay helps leaders and leadership teams be the best they can be so they, in turn, make the biggest positive difference for themselves, their people and society.