I draw using ball point ink pens. My instrument of choice is a medium point Bic pen. It is a modest tool with some obvious imperfections. Both of those attributes actually enhance the pleasure and satisfaction of ultimately capturing an image on paper or canvas in a way that represents it with its obvious and often subtle uniqueness. While the study of human behavior and change represent aspects of the science of coaching, the passion of drawing serves as a metaphor for me for the art of coaching.

Coaching involves a blend of modesty and confidence. There are those instances of confidence when a coach asserts they can assess others with a handshake or one critical question, and then drive them to change lifelong behaviors by dangling a well-crafted “what’s in it for you” challenge. There are also those instances of modesty like using a Bic pen. I know a few things and am genuinely curious about many more but I don’t know it all. I have a few answers but I need to ask several questions before I know if any of them are of benefit to you.

The Bic pen “writes first time every time.”  However, it does not write the same way each time. It is prone over time to roll or start slowly and then to suddenly leak more ink than intended. Every mark you make lingers. Mistakes can not be erased. You can plan ahead as much as possible, or make moves that represent continuous lines, essentially connecting the dots. You feel and adjust along the way. If, or rather when you make a mistake, you have to work it into the finished drawing.

The “first time every time” I meet with a client I am eager and interested in “writing” their story and uncovering them. It does not always unfold in the same way or as I intend. Sometimes I am too patient, rolling out my questions and responses too slowly. Sometimes my questions are too abrupt or persistent, like that unexpected drop of ink. I do plan ahead and intend to ask questions about the person’s situation, then about problems, followed by implications. I work through these questions and responses all before I offer to suggest what they need. I do have an idea about how I want to connect the questions while still being responsive to what the person actually says and willingly adjusting. I have taken my “mistakes” and theirs and framed them as learning points. (I fell asleep listening to a client and woke up to ask “does this happen to you often?” It was an “aha” moment.)

Drawings are an intense experience for me. Many pieces take hours to complete. Though only a few hours of time, they are only done effectively when I am fully and intently engaged during that time. Sometimes they are more labored and mindful, in an effort to get a specific feature right. Sometimes they flow easily in a mindless state, because I can not only see and feel what is before me, but I also have a clear vision of how it will unfold. There are also moments in those hours when you recognize that a drop of ink here and the placement of a line there changes the overall image and feel. Sometimes that same simple intervention reveals something not seen or considered before. Somewhere around this time and before the image is “complete”, I know my work as the artist is done.

My most effective coaching/consulting engagements are the same. Few leaders get an opportunity to intently focus on themselves and their development for an extended length of time. There is an intimacy to coaching that should be intentional. There are times when the process seems more labored and times when it flows effortlessly. Having a shared vision of what good looks like and seeing movement in that direction accelerates the process and enhances the results.

Perhaps where the metaphor falls short is that the “final” image is not the work of the artist/coach/consultant. We are not destined to be Pygmalion as coaches. We partner with clients enabling them, accelerating and elevating their development. Our task, our privilege, is to draw out the best in what we see, and in what others see.

What is your metaphor? What is the art of what you do?

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