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  • Mary Polychronis

The Value of Coaching Skills in my Work and Life: Expanding my View of Leadership

Written by: Mary Polychronis, Community Specialist at CCVO


As a professional working in the social impact sector, I was intrigued by the Coach Social Change course and equally as drawn to the expertise, unique background and interests of the coaches. I was fascinated by their passion for social change, regenerative leadership, and values-centered leading, to name a few.

As someone who is not in a traditional leadership role, I questioned whether it was applicable to me. Could I justify taking this course as part of professional development? If I am not supervising or managing someone, would a coaching course be appropriate? Fortunately, I came to realize that this was a limiting way to view leadership. Leadership is not a thing someone does or does not possess based on status, but rather a quality that transcends traditional, hierarchical way of thinking and being. It’s something that is practiced and exercised in multiple ways irrespective of one’s formal position. Coaching skills are an integral part of this leadership development practice.

From emerging leaders, to CEO’s, and everyone in between, coaching skills are foundational to anyone committed to growth, lifelong learning, and creating positive change on both the micro and macro level. In the Coach Social Change course I gained coaching tools and skills that have added value to both my professional and personal life. These skills have given me a foundation and framework to thrive in my capacity to constructively engage with colleagues, stakeholders, and communities I lead and facilitate. I have also learned to become a better listener, and how to ask powerful questions.

4 of my biggest takeaways were:

  1. The power of using processes to be intentional about co-creating ways of working together

  2. Shift from advice giving to deep listening and curiosity as a way of supporting others

  3. Asking questions from a place of deep listening rather than problem solving leads to more meaningful discussion and action.

  4. Coaching skills can apply not just to our work, but our whole lives in creating more meaningful relationships.


Designing and Co-Creating Alliances

A design alliance is an invaluable tool that sets the foundation for co-creating and establishing mutually agreed upon ways of working together. With human interaction being at the root of change at the micro-level, this new learning aligned well with the course’s focus on social change and professionals in the social impact space. This approach helped me show up more purposefully in my work and life.

I have been able to use this practice in my professional and personal relationships, both one-on-one and groups. I use it regularly in my interactions with colleagues, external stakeholders, and communities to establish mutual expectations and guidelines of engagement, especially in this time of continuous change, uncertainty and working remotely. It has even helped me facilitate fun weekend getaways with friends this summer. This includes discussing preferences and expectations prior to the holiday so that we can co-create how we want to spend our time and ensure there are no surprises. It also involves checking in throughout to open dialogue for any changing preferences.

It is a foundational tool that when used intentionally, helps establish trust and safety, and brings us closer to positive social change and outcomes.


Deep Listening Skills & Asking Powerful Questions

Deep listening skills and asking powerful questions are an interconnected art that build on one another. The opportunity to practice with an amazing cohort and learn from my mistakes in an environment designed to be co-creative and safe was a powerful experience. In each session, we practiced an allied approach to deep listening, and learned a variety of meta-skills to help us draw wisdom from one another from a place of non-judgement and rooted in deep curiosity.

With friends and family, I have shifted from my habitual, surface level type listening, to an open and empathic listening. I was always quick to provide advice to problems which is also usually not what people want or need. Deep listening skills include summarizing words and emotions that are shared, and asking powerful questions to allow them to explore their feelings, uncover more, and expand awareness and new areas to explore. This encourages them to exercise their natural resiliency to gain deeper understanding and clearer courses of action. Participating in this type of co-created dialogue with friends, family, colleagues and within my community has been equally constructive and invigorating.

In the professional realm, this learning has transformed the way I approach issues, questions, and has strengthened my facilitation skills. The meta-skills I’ve gained have helped transform silences into opportunities for creative dialogue and collaborative learning and exploration.

Deep listening and powerful questions have been extremely valuable in communities of practice I lead where professionals meet to share challenges, resources, and help each other problem solve, most often to complex issues to which there are no simple answers. In such scenarios, I’ve learned that silences are opportunities to exercise deep curiosity and encourage active experimentation vs allowing discussions to abruptly end. This involves asking powerful questions, and building off words and emotions shared to encourage the group to engage in creative dialogue and brainstorming that unleashes the collective wisdom of the group.


The Impact in Work & Life

The Coach Social Change course is invaluable for anyone working in the social impact space and passionate about growth and lifelong learning. What’s fascinating about coaching skills is just how effective they are in both work and life. I’ve gained a foundation for building mental muscles that generate powerful questions, approach issues with deep curiosity and compassion, and develop collaborative ways of working together towards positive change. I’m also grateful for a renewed energy to continue to exercise and strengthen them.

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