Coaching and Mentoring Techniques: Part 3 – Circles of Empowerment and other approaches


circles of empowerment and other approaches:  Coaching and Mentoring Techniques: Part 3 

circles of empowerment – The circles of empowerment approach is used to help the mentee to establish those personal attributes that are sources of real or potential advantage and those that are sources of disadvantage.   Many attributes have both positive and negative perspectives.

circles of empowerment

In the circles of empowerment approach the mentee is asked to identify as many aspects of their personality and background as possible and to locate them vis a vis a line that represents the border between being a positive or negative factor in the context of the situation.  The context may be career progression in a particular organisation or profession, being able to influence an important decision or being able to achieve a specific level of performance in a sport.  Circles entirely below the line indicate a severe hindering factor whereas those entirely above the line are enabling of the contextual goal.   Those straddling the line have both positive and negative elements.  Having identified each of these elements the coach/mentor helps the learnder to define what they can do to:

  • Create more of the positives
  • Reduce the impact of the negatives
  • Manage the line-straddling issues more effectively

An optional intermediate stage (and one that differentiates this

approach from a SWOT analysis) is to discuss how large each circle should

  1. The bigger the diameter, the greater its impact on the goal and the higher the priority it should acquire in the dialogue between coach/mentor and mentee.

Identifying components of an issue – stepping out/stepping in

With the circles of empowerment approach observation of effective mentors at work indicates that they have the talent of keeping dialogue moving, primarily through switching perspective. They rarely allow the mentee to remain in the same mental state forlong. They constantly shift the nature and style of the questions they ask.  Analysis of how they change perspective suggests that they move around the quadrants of the marix.

Stepping into the box is about acknowledging the individual’s own perspectives, joining them to try to understand what they are thinkingand feeling, and why. Some people may come at an issue from a purely rational viewpoint, not wanting to explore their emotions for fear of what they might discover about themselves. Others may simply be too caught up in the emotion of a situation to think about it rationally.

Stepping out of the box is about helping them to distance themselves from the issue, either to examine it intellectually from other people’s or broader perspectives; or to help them empathize with and understand the feelings of other protagonists in the situation under discussion.

To truly understand and deal with an issue, it is frequently necessary to explore it from each of these perspectives.  A small insight into one perspective can generate progress in another and a skilled coach/mentor uses frequent shifts of questioning to generate these incremental advances.

Unravelling the past to open up options for the future

It has been said that coaches and mentors do for your future what a shrink does for your past. The techniques in this section seek to join the past, through the present, to the future.

Career pathing

It’s frightening sometimes how often people keep repeating the same mistakes, particularly in terms of career choices. Career pathing is a simple approach to helping people learn lessons from previous career decisions, which they can apply to future decisions.

On a large sheet of paper, the coach encourages the client to write down an early career choice – for example, which degree course to take at university. How many other options did they have at this time? Why did they choose this particular one? What advice, if any, was available to them? How did they internalize that advice? How do they feel about the choice? (Given the opportunity, would they choose differently now?)

The coach takes the mentee through a series of decision points, producing a map that looks something like the figure above. In many cases, it might not have been a matter of making choices so much as drifting into a set of circumstances, where the choice was made for the client. Some choices may have expanded the range of future options, others severely constrained them. The coach helps the client analyse each of the pivotal points in his or her career, drawing out lessons concerning the nature and management of the process. Projecting this into the future involves questions such as:

  • What pivotal decision points are likely to come in the next 24 months or so?
  • To what extent have you prepared for these?
  • Who will you want to consult and when?
  • Will these expand or reduce your range of options?
  • What values will you want to apply to the decision?
  • How are you going to make sure you exert control over this next step in your career direction?

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