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Lucy Ball is an executive coach, pairs coach and team coach.

Leadership Range not Change

Coaching clients often bring to coaching a particular aspect of their leadership that they want to improve. This has sometimes been brought to their attention by feedback from their boss or their people.  For example, I need to be more succinct in the Board room or I need to be better at influencing upwards.

What I want to say in this journal entry is my experience of how much attention needs to be paid to the client’s resistance to the feedback that they have been given before work can begin on a new behaviour.  In my early days as a coach I might have ploughed through a process of working on a new behaviour whilst ignoring the part of my client that is really not willing to move. This part wants to say: My boss is saying he doesn’t really like me the way I am or I feel like I’m being asked to be someone I am not!

Feedback that we need to change invokes resistance. Although a rational part of us that is interested in development says Sure, I’ll work on that, another more instinctive part of us wants to defend the habits that have served us well to date and currently define us. So I am chatty and warm and wordy – that’s just me. Don’t ask me to become a pointy-headed analyst overnight! So I’m better with my team than with my seniors. Don’t ask me to start blowing smoke up rear-ends, that’s just not me!

This is where I find the notion of Range not Change an incredibly useful one. In my experience it can help reframe feedback and create openness to something new. The idea is simple. If we see development as change, we can see it as destroying a part of us that is not good enough. If we see development as building range; adding new tools and options to our armoury, then no attack on what is currently well-developed is inferred.

Leadership range is about leaders adding to their options, choices, capabilities without necessarily losing old ones. All our behaviours have their place somewhere and have served us well at some point. Our chattiness is still useful to us in many contexts but we might need to add something else into our range for the boardroom.

This isn’t just semantics. It’s not about sugar-coating difficult feedback or tricking people into changing. It’s more fundamental. It’s about what developing really means.The analogy of a tree works well for some clients. Developing is about growing new branches, it does not mean we have to cut down our very trunk.

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