Coaching Presence with Joanne Fourtanier

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Keeping Agile Non-Denominational, Episode 13

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Alex Kudinov   Welcome to Tandem Coaching Academy's Keeping Agile Non-Denominational podcast. We are your hosts; I, Alex Kudinov, and Cherie Silas and today we have Jo Fourtanier. Jo, it's all yours. Can you introduce yourself to our listeners?

Jo Fourtanier   Yes, thanks, Alex. So my name is Jo. I'm British but I'm based in the south of France in Toulouse and have been living here for the past twenty years. I've been a coach for twenty-two or twenty-three years now. I'm accredited by the ICF. I'm a PCC. I'm also a Certified Mentor Coach, I'm a Certified Coaching Supervisor, and I work both in business with my coaching colleagues in Mentoring and Supervision and also in sport.  I work a lot around the area of Emotional Intelligence and it's linked to performance in lots of different ways, and I work individually and with groups, teams, companies, businesses...

Alex Kudinov   So today, the topic of our conversation is coaching presence and I know we did that on purpose, kind of not narrowing it down. Coaching presence is a huge topic; we can go anywhere you want and coaching presence looms large amongst those several ICF competencies. So what is coaching presence for Jo?

Jo Fourtanier   I think coaching presence is a number of different things. It is, on the one hand, something quite concrete and clear in terms of the way that we show up in the coaching space. Who we are, how we work, the energy we put into it, the energy we give off. Then I think there's another aspect of presence, which is a state of being when we are in that coaching space, where you find yourself in a bubble, in a moment, fully there, body, mind and spirit connected to the client working, listening, flowing; not distracted. You're able to say that in an hour, you maybe went elsewhere in your head twice for two seconds; just being all there.

Cherie Silas   So I hear you talk about that and in this world of 10,000 squirrels at any minute running by, or at least that's my wall, I'm wondering how you develop that, that ability to just get in and be fully focused on everything with your client with both your mind, your body, and your being there with them?

Jo Fourtanier   It's like any skill. It is something that needs to be understood and practiced and I think the capacity to remain present is not natural for me. I'm someone who has a very busy brain. I'm constantly thinking about things and off in one hundred different directions. I also have strong emotional reactions to things as a human rather than just a coach and those emotions can sometimes take over. I think for those reasons I started practicing meditation ten or twelve years ago, allowing myself a space where I think of nothing.  I'm very pragmatic about it and very simple about it but I do it regularly. I do it at the beginning of my day because I feel, as a coach, although it's normal that my life is not always easy, my responsibility to my clients is to at least know where I am with things. So I always do that check in and I always have a moment of space in my mind where I just spend three, four, five, ten, fifteen, twenty; whatever I might be able to give myself minutes just winding down. I've also done the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course which is famous across the globe. It is about teaching you to be mindful and live in the present moment. I felt those things really, really helped with my coaching presence.

Cherie Silas   I love that you're bringing in that that self care because until we care for ourselves, we can't care for others. So as I listen to this coaching presence, and the impact that has on you as you show up, I'm wondering what the impact is to your client when your coaching presence is either not great or when it's really, really refined?

Jo Fourtanier   And as I listen to your question, the thing that pops up for me, first of all, is the thought that the importance of observing, coming out of sessions and questioning how present we were, and when we're not so present, just spending a few moments saying, "What happened to me there?", "At what moment did I lose it?", "At what moment was I not prepared enough?", "What was what was going on?", "Was it something provoked by the discussion with my client that distracted me that touched some of my values?" So there are definitely days and moments and I think that's where the check-in in the morning that I do, that moment I spend myself in the morning when I say, "How are you today?" and "How do you want to go through your day?" is helpful for me because I sometimes know that I'm lacking in patience, for example, at the beginning of the day, because I've got stuff going on in my background life, and therefore I know that with certain clients, maybe in my diary, they can trigger impatience in me; just observing and keeping connected. Again, I think that's the fundamental part of it; being present in  itself.

Cherie Silas   I want to, for our listeners, make that connection between what you said here. This self-reflective practice of coming in and going out of sessions, where the coach is reflecting on their own work and how they showed up. As you may know, ICF has actually brought reflective practice into their competencies as Coaching Mindset. So what are some of your views, beyond just the 'coming in and going out of sessions', how self-reflection in that reflective practice can help coaches be stronger, especially with presence?

Jo Fourtanier   Listen, you and I are both Supervisors. We have been trained and certified; we know the usefulness and the power of that space in order to develop professionally. I think that showing up fully, being fully present for our clients requires us to do the same thing for ourselves. That's what, for me, the supervision space is about but I think on top of that, those of us that have jobs where we accompany other people, particularly insensitive, intimate, complicated emotional contexts, owe it to our clients to take care of ourselves and to be taken care of. It's that notion of, 'We work on ourselves to have the privilege of working with others.' the Doug Silsbee quote, which I think is about a regular investment in the self. Checking in, being present to the self is where I think it starts.

Alex Kudinov   So, as I'm listening to this I'm going back to kind of my experience as an instructor, sometimes I find it hard or complex to explain this squishy concept to those who have never experienced it, who have never done it before. What are some tips you might give to beginner coaches to start experiencing it and then maybe go and reflect and get better?

Jo Fourtanier   As I listened to your question, the first thing that came into my mind was it all starts just before the session. It all starts with a conscious decision to show up fully and to be fully present for the work that's about to happen. It's about not doing things when you're unprepared; not rushing from one session to another but connecting in to the here and now out of respect for yourself and the client, before you launch the coaching session. Sitting on the seat, planting your two feet consciously on the floor, feeling your backside and your legs on the chair, straightening yourself up, opening.  Some coaches like to use questions which help people put things to one side, asking them about what's going on in the background, how they feel about it, and just enabling them to package it and to keep it safe but not let it interfere with what's going on. There are small techniques like that. So I think that being present is about preparation. It's about paying attention to the body and what's going on in the mind and the emotions; learning how to regularly check in with those things, whilst staying attentive to the clients and what they're saying.

Alex Kudinov   From your experience, how do clients perceive when a coach is fully in the moment, fully present versus when there's something going along and that's kind of not that good coaching? What's changing for the client when the coach is fully present?

Jo Fourtanier   I think we're into this magical concept of flow that everyone talks about. I think if you are someone who has learned over the years to really have a capacity to check into your energy and your state at any one moment and to feel what's going on in a session, this is the notion of intuition that we're getting to as well. That's how it feels. I think it feels to the client as if we're holding the space for them to think out loud. I think there's a freedom about it. I think it's fluid. I think the coach intuitively asks the right question because they're fully present to what's going on, they're open to not only the words, but the energy of what is being communicated as well.

Cherie Silas   When I hear you talk about this, I also heard this nuance of helping the client be present in their own session. That's really interesting to me, to help the client to put off all of the noise and focus on what's right here in front of us. So when I think about ICF and their definition of coaching presence, there's a big focus on partnership. I'm wondering, what are some of the things that you think display really good partnership between a coach and a client?

Jo Fourtanier   I think that when the client has understood that the space is theirs to use freely and comes with a subject matter each time to look at and the coach can therefore take their place of listening, questioning with curiosity, to help that person think about their situation in lots of different ways. It becomes like a kind of dance where there's no contact physically but it's moving. It's fluid. The coach is not calculating how they manage the session and the client is not calculating how they answer the questions. I think, pragmatically, for that to work -- because that all sounds very sort of mystical and sort of fantastic and sort of easy and it -- the way that this works from a concrete perspective, being able to turn up to be fully present, to show up fully and authentically as a coach in a space, you have to you have to have the contract completely clear. So this magical mystical person that-- you know, I am able to stay present. If I take a deep breath, now I can put myself straight back into that energy that I was in before.

Cherie Silas   So, I'd love to pull on a metaphor that you brought in, this dancing. When I hear people talking about coaching as a dance, I imagine, "Yes! There's this Waltz; there's a really, really cool partnership, and yet, sometimes I get into a coaching session and it feels like a slam dance instead and the client's, not reflective. Our favorite clients are those that are totally reflective, right? "We're gonna go way deep!" and yet, that's not all of my client base. Some of them, I'd love to go deep but that's not exactly the dance they want to do. How do you manage that tension between, 'I want to Waltz and you want to slam dance'? Who is it really about anyway?

Jo Fourtanier   What I picked up when I I heard you saying that was immediately some clients popped into my mind. It wouldn't be truthful to say that I loved working with all my clients equally. There are different clients who do different things to me and there are clients that I work with in different ways. A couple of people popped into my mind, not because I don't like working with them, but because they're perhaps less in their flow and don't find it so easy to self reflect and that kind of thing. I think being self aware is something that's really important in that context. I think knowing what it is about the relationship that doesn't -- or the values or the differences in our preferences that doesn't  -- really work is enough for me to be able to let go of it but that requires me to know myself. Therefore there are certain clients that I don't work with. I always do that session zero, where I meet with them, and we talk and if I don't feel that I'm the right person for them, values wise, behaviors wise, competency wise, then I don't do the work with them.

Cherie Silas   I love that you brought this in and I'll pull back on ICF competencies again. This new competency model has done such a great job. And one of those pieces is it is actually the coach's job to make sure this client coach compatibility. We actually have an ethical responsibility to say, "I am not the right coach for you." and not take the contract.

Jo Fourtanier   And that's presence. That is only possible when you are being fully present to what's going on in the space, what's going on with you; it's not just a head thing, it's a heart thing, it's a gut thing, it's about the other, it's about listening, it's about being self aware of filters, and observing.  Observing those relationships that you start that you think, 'I didn't feel so great about this one at the beginning, how come I allowed myself to get involved?' That's the observation and all of that is presence. That's the pragmatic side to presence; being self aware, understanding how you show up, understanding where you do your best work, not to be the greatest, but to be in that great energy helping people move forward. So, yeah, presence.

Alex Kudinov   So, Jo, pulling back a little bit, you mentioned that you've been coaching for years and years, and then you are a mentor coach, and you got into supervision kind of recently compared to your coaching practice. So sounds like quite a few lenses to look at presence through and how do these views differ?

Jo Fourtanier   In those different roles?

Alex Kudinov   Yeah.

Jo Fourtanier   I think the role where I am less present is in the Mentor Coach role, which requires me to be up here quite a lot in the intellectual analysis of recordings and connection to competencies. When I'm more in that sort of teaching/training mode, expert mode, I'm more in my head than I am in the here and now. So I can perhaps not listen so well sometimes. That's not the moment where I feel the most present and I think the space in which I just feel like I'm floating in presence is the Supervision space because coaches are so amazing to work with, they do so much of their work on their own, especially experienced coaches. All we have to do is just hold that little...we just have to sit there cross legged and let it all flow in and flow out and ask that question at the right time. It's just magical. So I think that's where I really feel I'm floating on clouds of presence in my Supervision sessions. Then I think coaching, it will depend very much on the subject matter, I think, that my clients want to work on. Some of them appeal to me, perhaps more than others, and so some of them take more work for me to keep as a filter when we are exchanging on subjects. So it does vary for me in different roles; different kinds of presence.

Alex Kudinov   Yeah. It also sounds like coaching presence is an evolving concept and, as you basically said, it's a skill, it's competencies, that muscle that we constantly train and constantly kind of upscale. So if you had a chance to go back 10 years ago and meet that Jo, a 10 years less experienced coach, and tell her one thing she could have done better, what would that be?

Jo Fourtanier   I think there was a period of about three or four years when I picked my career up again, after my children, that I wasn't as Supervised as regularly because I was having trouble to find a Supervisor here in France. I'm bringing this up for a reason because I think the Supervision space, not only is it an ethical obligation, in my opinion, and I really agree with the fact the ICF have brought it into the competencies now but I think that that is the space not only in which we can really pay professional attention to the work that we're doing with our clients; to seriously look at the way we're working. I think that it's also the biggest place for professional development and I think, therefore, I lost out maybe on four or five years of growth for just sort of tootling along in a comfort zone. I think that I could have got myself out of business situations that were less comfortable for me, if I had sort of grown a bit more in my confidence to move forward on my own, for example. Those are the sorts of things that would come up for me I think

Cherie Silas   I love that you're bringing that in. I've seen so many coaches be included. I've taken so much coach training over the years and I see coaches getting more and more and more and more training but it's really a, 'What do you do with that training?' and I love that you brought in that the Supervision really helps you to show up differently as a coach and it is about self development. There's what's in the head and there's what you do with it, and what you think you're doing with it and how you can do that better. So, really a fan of that.  I do want to kind of shift gears just a second; just a little bit. What I know about you, Jo, is that you do a lot of coaching with high performing athletes, college athletes, professional athletes, and this fascinates me, especially with this topic of coaching presence, because when I think of athletes, I am not thinking of somebody who's like, deep in the coaching presence, and reflection, and all that stuff. I'm thinking, "They're driven!" So I'm fascinated about how this works in your space?

Jo Fourtanier   We work a lot on the mindfulness with the athletes, we really do. Get them on a six or seven week program, forcing them in the nicest possible way to regularly connect into themselves and to have that moment for a long period of time. We get them out in nature, the world, I mean just understanding the importance of getting outside, getting fresh air, and listening to things, and feeling the air on their skin, and smelling things, and just letting go and walking and chatting. We get them focusing on their identity. That's what we're anchoring them in. It's about trying to help these young people not lose sight of who they are along the way. So that whatever happens in their professional careers, they have the self to come back to. That's something missing for a lot of them because they've been involved in their sports for many years and have never been present to why they were there. That's one of the questions we work on. Why are you here? What is it that you're giving your life up for in what you do?

Alex Kudinov   So it's really a fascinating topic for me and I wanted to kind of dig a little bit deeper. We all know that one of the roots of coaching comes from inner gain and from that kind of "but if" work, right? Then again, when we go to a wider population and you would ask them, "What image comes to your mind when you think about a sports coach?" It's somebody who is in your face, who is trying to get your results, and who is probably yelling and screaming on the front of the bleachers or from the benches. I don't think many people would think about Jo, who is working with professional athletes; who is kind of getting them to that next level. What do professional athletes get from these kinds of engagements?

Jo Fourtanier   You know, you've hit the complication for those of us starting to do this work in this very new area because it is a big area of mystery and we do not have a lot of statistics about exactly what goes on. What we have identified is when you take a holistic approach to working with anyone, business or sport, you have to take care of the body, the mind, the emotions, and the spirit. Those are the four what we call the four intelligences of the human being. So we know in business that we feed our mind, we know that emotions are ignored a lot of the time, and boy, we don't get a lot of time to spend on our bodies. We're certainly not spending much time connecting into our values and needs. So what we have heard in terms of feedback from the athletes is that they have never heard of this kind of work before but when they are in the space with a professional coach like me, it's one of the only moments when they are not being told what to do, when they can just show up and be themselves with no one saying "Well, we're about to, you know, get involved in this training or that training", no one requiring their time, and it's a space for them just to show up and be themselves. A space to be vulnerable to work on their resilience and their motivation. A space to say, "I am hating my trainer at the moment" and "the way he behaves is," as you were saying Alex, "the opposite of what I believe humans should be doing to motivate each other." Getting out of their systems, understanding why it's there, finding the courage to speak up, having a kind of a buddy somewhere along the line to listen to them; a listening buddy. It's a lot of what we're doing with these young people as they live far away from home in complicated sort of situations. So they kind of appreciate the space to be vulnerable. They wouldn't use those words but that's how I kind of summarize it.

Alex Kudinov   So as you're talking about this, some different thoughts come to my mind and I want to kind of probably that direction. So I'm pretty sure in your twenty years of coaching, you have coached numerous clients with what we call Imposter Syndrome. 'I'm not worthy. I'm helpless, hopeless, I'm not worthy.' Now you're getting to this absolutely new space, where there's not much data, where you, you probably are very sure in your process. However, it's still very new. It's still like going into some darkness or into some fog and trying to find your way and see what your impact is. How do you deal with potential onsets of that Imposter Syndrome? 'Am I doing the right thing?'

Jo Fourtanier   I don't ask myself those kinds of questions anymore. I ruined a lot of my life, I think, asking myself those kinds of questions and perhaps not doing certain things or taking a while to do things. I had been talking to other people for at least five years about my desire to do my work in high level sport. I have a background in high level sport and it was the reason why I didn't go any further, because the emotional side of the work was never paid attention to. I in the end, followed my heart and at the age that I am now, I recognize that sometimes following your heart is exactly what you need to do. So I used 2020, as an opportunity to spend time talking to people and gathering a group of people around me. Once I realized how interested everyone was, I realized I really was coming into an area which is, as yet, uncharted territory.  I had a discussion today, yet again, with someone saying, "This is the missing part that no one is doing." So I was in the right place at the right time and I know that what I'm doing is adding value. Whether that is in sport, in coaching, or as a supervisor, I allow myself to say today, "The people I work with, because we choose each other, we do excellent work together." I know that the work that is going on has value because when I sat down with a group of thirty high level athletes yesterday, so many of them said, 'If only we had had this, we would have gone a lot further.' Those that are practicing are all in national teams right now are saying, "We've been through this program and now mentoring on it, and it transformed our careers. We didn't realize we could squeeze" because it's all about performance in the end. I think it's about happiness but we believe that happy athletes, happy people are high performers. They do their best when they're feeling their best. It's a no brainer. *laughs* I don't even ask myself these questions, because it's obvious to me. Maybe at the age of nearly 50 now, I say to myself, "Well, if it feels so obvious, just go. What have you got to lose?" What have you got to lose? I think the statistics will come. I want to start measuring injury. I want to see how much the injuries go down when they get the sort of psychological support and emotional support; when they do the work on themselves.

Cherie Silas   So you're working with really high performers, people who are worth investing in to get this coaching. Then when I cross over to the corporate world. I know that it's the high performers that most organizations will invest in coaches to work with them; to get them to even higher. Yet, I see, especially in the industry where we sit, which is in Agile coaching, I see coaching used more as a remedial, 'Go work with those teams, they're not doing good.' 'That manager is not doing what I want him to do, go work with them.' So I wonder what your advice is, for coaches who are trying to work that path of, "I'm not here to do your performance management. I'm here to work with your people. Whether they're higher or lower performance, I think, may be irrelevant. I see them as whole." So what advice would you have for helping to navigate that?

Jo Fourtanier   I pay attention to the coaching philosophy of the companies that I'm working with. I like to question the companies upfront about the kinds of situations they use coaching for.  I've had the luxury over the recent years to work with a company that really gives coaching to people who need it or want it. So you get people with very few complications, just wanting to be greater or work on some interesting subjects. So I think that, again, as coaches, we should have a way of speaking about ourselves and the work that we do, that is clear, in terms of what we need to be excellent. I love working with high performers but I also work with special needs, trauma, and bereavement, and people from all different kind of walks of life. I need the variety. I need a challenge after 25 years of coaching. I need to feel that there is something in what I'm doing.  You know, I will take on that case of the person who's got ten counts of harassment against them, and he's on their last kind of chance at the company and doesn't want the coaching. I'll take that person and I crack the nuts because I show up fully. I bring my vulnerability into the room as well but I can be...I give as good as I get as well, I don't let people walk over me. All of that comes from the fact that upfront, I tell them what I need. "I need the freedom to do this. I need the freedom to do that. I need confidentiality, I won't talk to anyone about it. I need a certain amount of time." I think you know, it doesn't suit everybody. "I need to be able to challenge you in front of your team. I need to be able to be completely free and say to you whatever comes into my mind, even if it's not pleasant at the time" and I think that's our responsibility of coaches. The question, first of all, is how do you want to be working? How do you need to work in order to be great? How do you communicate that to your clients so that you attract the work that you want to be doing?

Alex Kudinov   So something I picked up on, you said, 'I'm examining company's coaching philosophy.' The big assumption in there is that company actually has a coaching philosophy. So I'm wondering, if you're coming to a company that has absolutely no coaching philosophy whatsoever, how would you help them to shape it?

Jo Fourtanier   I'm kind of surprised at my answer, because I'm being sort of very spontaneous here but  I think in order to create a coaching culture within an organization, you need to be developing coaching skills across the business. I think a great tool for developing coaching skills -- and by coaching skills, I'm talking about the basics. So presence, which for me is the number one but listening, questioning, reformulation, managing silence, those kinds of things. -- you can do a lot of that through action learning as a tool. You know, when you set up 45 minute working groups where someone exposes a problem, the rest of the group questions, it's collective intelligence, solidarity, presence, listening...think that's a great way of doing it. So I think it's about encouraging the skills across the company and I think it has to be a top down bottom up approach as well. I think that coaching is philosophy. Coaching is a set of skills, it's competencies but it's also an attitude and philosophy. In order to put in place a coaching culture and use coaching postures and skills, you've got to believe that it really is interesting listening to other people and you've got to believe that other people are well equipped for sort of finding their own answers. If you don't really believe that it's very hard to put that kind of culture in place and that has to come from the top. Then it has to be backed up by behaviors and attitudes.

Alex Kudinov   Probably if you don't believe in that, do you have to be a coach after all then? So, Jo, lots of stuff going on; long and storied career as the coach. Got into Supervision doing all these great stuff with high performance athletes, what does 2021 bring to you?

Jo Fourtanier   I think that my work will be much more balanced than it has been in the past. I think I'll be balanced equally between working with other coaches, working in sport, and working in business. I think that freedom, in my way of working, is something important. I don't just mean in my style, sort of being a freestyle coach and a little bit eccentric.  Being able to move around and have the freedom to not have to live in one place. I think 2020 sort of, and living in this one space for a whole year, kind of has made me want to move a little bit. So I'd like I'd like the opportunity to travel but I don't want to live, if I'm honest and if we keep COVID in the background, I don't want to live a year of financial insecurity like I did last year. It was never bad but I didn't like the idea that it could get really complicated. So I think having a more balanced portfolio is important and every one of those sectors; mentoring, supervision, coaching, and the sports stuff, I just feel so excited about it all. It's a year of excitement, I think, and growth.

Alex Kudinov   Yeah and if I may, when you were talking about those athletes, when you were talking about that new and exciting role you took on, you were just brimming with that excitement. You were just kind of, "I'm gonna get it and I'm getting it and I'll be great at it." We wish you all the luck and great success there. It was really great to have you. This was Tandem Coaching Academy's Keeping Agile Non-Denominational podcast. We had Jo Fourtanier and this is Alex Kudinov and Cherie Silas as your hosts. Bye now.

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