Adab, love and mindfulness take centre stage at Henley Coaching Conference

For news of future events and more information about the Henley Centre for Coaching, click here.

Addressing the conference theme of ‘Coaching – Beyond Skills’, the 14th annual Henley Coaching Conference once again pushed the boundaries, as a diverse programme of expert speakers provided a stimulating range of new perspectives, stretching the audience’s thinking from the outset.

Professor John Board, Dean of Henley Business School (left), with Gelong Thubten and Dr Jonathan Passmore, Director of the Henley Centre for Coaching

From the start, when Professor of Leadership, Peter Hawkins, took delegates off on a journey into the wider world, to the captivating assurance of Tibetan monk, Gelong Thubten, delegates were hooked. Many commented that this was the best conference yet, cementing Henley’s position at the forefront of the subject. Delegates praised Henley’s ongoing commitment to promoting dialogue on the less obvious – but invaluable – aspects of coaching.

Addressing the needs of future generations

Professor Hawkins opened the conference by issuing a series of direct challenges to all coaches. ‘What is your intent every time you begin a coaching session?’ he asked. ‘And how will it contribute to a better world? Because your grandchildren will want to know what we did to prepare them for greater demand, growing expectations and diminishing resources.’

Taking a longer and wider view of the future may seem at odds with the need to address the day-to-day issues faced by coaches. However, Professor Hawkins maintains that coaches must keep the bigger picture in mind, and must accept that in the context of a complex, ever-changing world, the tools, techniques and attitudes that have enabled us to progress over the past generation will not necessarily be relevant or effective for future challenges.

Citing the results from a two-year global survey of CEOs, HRDs and young business leaders, Peter outlined their views of the challenges we will face and of the learning gaps that exist.

‘Coaching may now be the most popular form of leadership, but we must gear up for tomorrow’s needs. It has to create shared value for multiple stakeholders, and align with the shift towards “future fit” departments rather than the silos of organisational development, consulting, leadership development and HR. We may have moved from IQ to EQ, but now we have to move to We-Q, a term relating to collaborative team intelligence.

‘We need to deepen our emotional, intellectual, spiritual, physical and relational capacities to relate more broadly, connect more deeply and perceive systematically,’ said Peter, ‘and never stop perfecting our adab – an Islamic term for “an appropriate way of being”.’

In summarising his list of required ‘be-attitudes’, Peter concluded that two practices are essential if coaching is to continue to move forward and maintain its growing relevance. ‘Firstly, we have to listen to the coachees’ underlying stories, with a wide-angled empathy and compassion. But we also have to move from dialogue to triangles, recognising that the third element in any relationship is the collective purpose.’

Looking at coaching from all angles

Henley’s view of coaching is not only evidenced by the spectrum of research conducted at the world-renowned Henley Centre for Coaching, but is also driven by the work done by PhD students on the neuroscience of emotion and decision-making at the University of Reading, of which Henley is a part. This subject formed the basis of a case study delivered by Helen Bullock, Head of Professional Forums at the International Coach Federation. She described how neuroscience, combined with David Rock’s SCARF model, had enabled a recent case to be resolved.

‘Neuroscience is still in its infancy,’ said Helen, ‘and we must be careful not to regard small insights as facts, but it is providing some new and exciting possibilities.’

Delegates at the conference were then able to choose to attend two of six workshop sessions, covering a diverse range of topics:

  • Dr Christian van Nieuwerburgh and Raja’a Al-Laho spoke about ‘Ershad’, a coaching framework aligned with Islamic faith and tradition in ‘Unlocking the potential of coaching in Islamic culture’.
  • Yetunde Hoffman relayed her belief that love can enhance the effectiveness of all coaching activity.
  • Professor Bob Thompson delivered his view of coaching: ‘With no attachment to the answer’.
  • Dr Jonathan Passmore talked about ‘Using emotional awareness in coaching’.
  • Hetty Einzig advised on ‘Surviving and thriving in the marketplace’.
  • Dr Dorota Bourne and Michael Beale spoke about ‘Authentic identity coaching’.

A Tibetan monk’s view of mindfulness as a coaching approach

While the minds of many of the delegates were spinning from the eclectic mix of speakers, they were brought to a calmer state by the afternoon keynote speaker, Gelong Thubten, a British-born Tibetan Buddhist monk, who gave a masterclass on the role of mindfulness in effective coaching practice.

‘Contrary to some beliefs,’ said Thubten, ‘mindfulness is not a state of switching off, but of switching on. It is a technique that allows you to be calm, be in the present and be more aware of your thoughts.

‘With practice, it will make you more able to be responsive and compassionate, which, in turn, leads to more effective coaching behaviours.

‘And neuroscience is backing this up, demonstrating that even in relative beginners, being in a state of mindfulness reduces the production of cortisol, the natural steroid hormone that is related to our stress levels.’

‘In the context of relationships, too, mindfulness makes us more creative and allows us to empathise, without being infected by the issues. You will find yourself more able to maintain perspective and clear judgement. By practising mindfulness, your neurotic patterns and influences are less heavy.’

Thubten insists that mindfulness is something we should integrate into every aspect of our day, and that we can start by doing it while we brush our teeth!

‘It’s like a muscle, which develops with training. We gradually build new neural pathways, and it becomes a way of being. Of course, there are still stressful situations, but mindfulness allows us to react in a more positive way, and allows the positives to shine through.’

Rounding off the event, Thubten joined Hetty Einzig, Jonathan Passmore and Peter Hawkins in a panel discussion that reflected on the day’s topics and responded to questions from the delegates. This was followed by the presentation of the Henley Coaching Awards, covering three categories:

  • Contribution to Coaching Research and Practice, awarded to Anthony M Grant
  • Coaching Research Paper of the Year, awarded to ‘Evaluating coaching’s effect: Competencies, career mobility and retention’ by Jessica M Reyes Liske and Courtney L Holladay
  • Coaching Book of the Year, awarded to Ioanna Iordanou, Rachel Hawley and Christiana Iordanou for their book Values and Ethics in Coaching, which, according to the judges, ‘stood out for the clarity of writing and the ideas explored by the three authors on a topic which has been underresearched in coaching.’

Ioanna Iordanou, Rachel Hawley & Christiana Iordanou, winners of the Henley Coaching Book of the Year award

But the final words have to come from the delegates themselves, who proclaimed the event:

‘Very inspiring, enlightening and essential.’

‘A great networking opportunity, and a wonderful mix of authoritative speakers that are making me reassess the way I approach coaching.’

‘Great insights that will shape my attitude to future development.’

‘The session on mindfulness was brilliant, and has changed my way of thinking. An inspired choice of speaker.’

‘I shall be encouraging more people in my company to come along to Henley events – they always deliver meaningful takeaways that I can incorporate into my work life immediately.’

For news of future events and more information about the Henley Centre for Coaching click here

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