Are Your Leaders Coaching? Or Are They Doing Something else entirely?

Compass showing the way.jpg

 I often hear leaders today talk about the fact that they are coaching their staff. However, when I ask them more about their conversations, they are not in fact coaching, but often telling, teaching or mentoring their staff.

 Coaching is a very specific relationship, marked by a specific type of communication. According to an August 14, 2018 Harvard Business Review article by Julia Milner: “managers tend to think they’re coaching when they’re actually just telling their employees what to do.”

According to Sir John Whitmore, a leading figure in executive coaching, the definition of coaching is “unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them.” When done right, coaching can also help with employee engagement; it is often more motivating to bring your expertise to a situation than to be told what to do.

An ongoing study on the topic that analysed more than 900 recorded evaluations of “coaching conversations,” showed that when many managers were asked to “coach,” they instead demonstrated a form of consulting. They provided the other person with advice or a solution. Regularly heard were comments like, “First you do this” or “Why don’t you try this?”

The author’s research looked specifically at how you can train people to be better coaches. The good news is that managers can improve their coaching skills in a short amount of time, but they do have to invest in learning how to coach in the first place.

The research looked specifically at how you can train people to be better coaches by focusing on analysing the following nine leadership coaching skills, based on the existing literature and practical experiences of leadership coaching:

· listening

· questioning

 giving feedback

· assisting with goal setting

· showing empathy

· letting the coachee arrive at their own solution

· recognizing and pointing out strengths

· providing structure

· encouraging a solution-focused approach

After a short training program aimed at teaching managers to improve coaching competencies, the result was a 40.2% increase in overall coaching ability ratings across all nine categories, on average.

Consider the key takeaways from this research:

1.   Be clear on what coaching is and what it isn’t.

2.   Let leaders practice coaching in a safe environment before working with their own teams.

3.   Invest in some form of training that includes time for participants to reflect on their coaching skills. Ask “what’s working” and “what can we do better?”

4.   Feedback from coaching experts in order to improve is helpful; how well are the coaching skills being applied.

5.   Consider regular peer coaching, in the presence of a coaching expert to provide a safe environment, and to facilitate discussions about how to overcome coaching challenges.

So, leaders take note. Coaching may not be what you thought. But real coaching leads to increased accountability and increased outcomes and problem solving. Coaching can be a significant opportunity for leaders and staff to embrace and coaching can be learned.

In designing an approach, consider the importance of learning effective coaching to ensure that leaders are not reinforcing poor coaching practices among themselves.

Wanting to create a coaching culture in your organisation? Send me an email at to discuss coach training for leadership.

Michelle Bakjac is an experienced Psychologist, Organisational Consultant, Coach, Speaker and Facilitator. As Director of Bakjac Consulting, she is a credentialed Coach with the International Coach Federation (ICF) and a member of Mental Toughness Partners and an MTQ48 accredited Mental Toughness practitioner. Michelle assists individuals and organisations to develop their Mental Toughness to improve performance, leadership, behaviour and wellbeing.


7 Opportunities To Build Your Self-Acceptance

bakjac mirror.jpg

Often, we have to reflect on whether we like and accept ourselves for who we are. We have to ask: “Do I accept myself?”

As it turns out, self-acceptance is not an automatic or default state. Many of us have trouble accepting ourselves exactly as we are. It may not be so hard to accept the good parts of ourselves, but what about the rest? Surely, we shouldn’t accept our flaws and failures?

But, in fact, that’s exactly what we need to do.

If we are going to look at our opportunity to develop our resilience, mental toughness and wellbeing, then we first need to accept who we are.

I recently came across this great article that gives some great strategies to develop our self-acceptance.

Self-acceptance is exactly what its name suggests: the state of complete acceptance of oneself. True self-acceptance is embracing who you are, without any qualifications, conditions, or exceptions (Seltzer, 2008).

 “[Self-acceptance is] an individual’s acceptance of all of his/her attributes, positive or negative.” Morgado 2014

This definition emphasizes the importance of accepting all facets of the self. It’s not enough to simply embrace the good, valuable, or positive about yourself; to embody true self-acceptance, you must also embrace the less desirable, the negative, and the ugly parts of yourself.

If you’re thinking that accepting all the negative aspects of yourself sounds difficult—you’re not wrong! It’s not easy to accept the things that we desperately want to change about ourselves; however—counterintuitively—it is only by truly accepting ourselves that we can even begin the process of meaningful self-improvement.

Self-Acceptance vs. Self-Esteem

Although self-acceptance is closely related to other “self” concepts, t is a distinct construct.

Its close cousin, self-esteem, is also centred on your relationship to yourself, but they differ in an important way. Self-esteem refers to how you feel about yourself—whether you feel you are generally good, worthwhile, and valuable—while self-acceptance is simply acknowledging and accepting that you are who you are.

As Seltzer (2008) puts it:

“Whereas self-esteem refers specifically to how valuable, or worthwhile, we see ourselves, self-acceptance alludes to a far more global affirmation of self. When we’re self-accepting, we’re able to embrace all facets of ourselves—not just the positive, more ‘esteem-able’ parts.”

Full self-acceptance can lay the foundations for positive self-esteem and the two frequently go hand-in-hand, but they concern two different aspects of how we think and feel about ourselves.

Using Self-Acceptance

What is important to be aware of is that a lack of self-acceptance is related to lower levels of wellbeing, and perhaps even mental illness (Vasile, 2013).

If low self-acceptance causes (or results from) mental illness and low levels of well-being, it stands to reason that higher self-acceptance can act as a protective factor or a buffer against these negative experiences.

Self-Acceptance in Practice

Now that we know what self-acceptance is and how it can benefit us, we can move on to another important question: What does self-acceptance look like? How do we know when we have “reached” self-acceptance?

Marquita Herald (2015) from the Emotionally Resilient Living website puts it this way:

“Can you look in the mirror and truly accept the unique, wonderful work-in-progress person staring back at you?”

You will know that you have achieved your goal of self-acceptance when you can look at yourself in the mirror and accept every last bit of what makes you who you are, and when you no longer try to mitigate, ignore, or explain away any perceived faults or flaws—physical or otherwise.

Techniques you can implement to enhance your self-acceptance:

1.   Practice relaxed awareness. What is relaxed awareness? As opposed to constant distraction, or concentrated focus, relaxed awareness is a soft consciousness of our thoughts, feelings, pain, self-rating, and judgment, etc. It’s an awareness of our existence, and the stream of phenomena that is occurring at this moment, including thoughts and emotions and outside stimuli. To practice: close your eyes for a minute, and instead of pushing thoughts away or trying to focus on your breath, just softly notice your thoughts and feelings and body. You might see negative thoughts or emotions — that’s OK. Just notice them, watch them. Don’t try to turn them into positive thoughts or push them away. You can do this practice for 5 minutes a day, or up to 30 minutes if you find it useful.

2.   Welcome what you notice. When you practice relaxed awareness, you’ll notice things — negative thoughts, fears, happy thoughts, self-judgments, etc. We tend to want to stop the negative thoughts and feelings, but this is just a suppression, an avoidance, a negating of the negative. Instead, welcome these phenomena, invite them in for a cup of tea, give them a hug. They are a part of your life, and they are OK. If you feel bad about how you’ve been doing with exercise, that’s OK. Hug the bad feeling, comfort it, let it hang around for a while. They are not bad but are opportunities to learn things about ourselves. When we run from these “bad” feelings, we create more pain. Instead, see the good in them, and find the opportunity. Be OK with them.

3.   Let go of rating yourself. Another thing you’ll notice, once you start to pay attention, is self-rating. We rate ourselves compared to others, or rate ourselves as “good” or “bad” at different things, or rate ourselves as flabby or too skinny or ugly. This is not a very useful activity. That doesn’t mean to let it go, but just to notice it, and see what results from it. After realizing that self-rating repeatedly causes you pain, you’ll be happy to let it go, in time.

4.   Gratitude sessions. Wake up in the morning and think about what you’re grateful for. Include things about yourself. If you failed at something, what about that failure are you grateful for? If you aren’t perfect, what about your imperfection can you be grateful for? Feel free to journal about these things each day, or once a week if that helps.

5.   Compassion & forgiveness for yourself. As you notice judgments and self-rating, see if you can turn them into forgiveness and compassion. If you judge yourself for not doing well at something, or not being good enough at something, can you forgive yourself for this, just as you might forgive someone else? Can you learn to understand why you did it, and see that ultimately you don’t even need forgiveness? If we really seek to understand, we realize that we did the best we could, given our human-ness, environment, what we’ve learned and practiced, etc. And so we don’t need to forgive, but instead to understand, and seek to do things that might relieve the pain.

6.   Learn from all parts. We tend to try to see our successes as good, and the failures as bad, but what if we see that everything is something to learn from? Even the dark parts — they are parts of us, and we can find interesting and useful things in them too.

7.   Separate from your emotions. When you are feeling negative emotions, see them as a separate event, not a part of you, and watch them. Remove their power over you by thinking of them, not as commandments you must follow or believe in, but rather passing objects, like a leaf floating past you in the wind. The leaf doesn’t control you, and neither do negative emotions.

8.   Talk to someone.  We get so in our heads that it’s difficult to separate our thoughts and emotions, to see things clearly. Talking through these issues with another person — a friend, spouse, co-worker — can help you to understand yourself better. Use the talking technique together with one of the above techniques.


Want to know more about developing self-acceptance and your personal wellbeing? Contact Michelle to discuss personal coaching.

Michelle Bakjac is an experienced Psychologist, Organisational Consultant, Coach, Speaker and Facilitator. As Director of Bakjac Consulting, she is a credentialed Coach with the International Coach Federation (ICF) and a member of Mental Toughness Partners and an MTQ48 accredited Mental Toughness practitioner. Michelle assists individuals and organisations to develop their Mental Toughness to improve performance, leadership, behaviour and wellbeing. 



How Being More Confident Builds Your Mental Toughness

Bakjac Cheerful-young-girl-with-rainb-94001489.jpg

I really enjoy working with individuals to enhance their personal and interpersonal confidence. In this great post by Paul Lyons of Mental Toughness Partners, he explains how Mental Toughness can be enhanced by improving your confidence.

Mental Toughness is a mindset that provides you with the resilience and confidence to be more productive, more positive, more adaptable and less stressed than those who are not so. It can be measured and then developed through changing habits and adopting a more structured and less emotive approach to work and life.

The Clough and Strycharczyk mental toughness framework, backed by the simple but scientifically valid and reliable psychometric measure, MTQ Plus (part of the MTQ48 family) comprises four main scales or traits; Control, Commitment, Challenge and Confidence, each with two sub-scales which play an important part within the overall framework.

CONFIDENCE is having the self-belief to successfully complete tasks that may be considered too difficult by individuals with similar abilities but lower confidence.

I see the 'Confidence C' as being the icing-on-the-cake of mental toughness. Those people who possess more confidence and self-belief generally believe they can, and will, complete the task ahead of them. They will invariably keep their heads when things go wrong and often summon greater resolve to overturn the situation. This momentum means they will invariably succeed where others will fail and are determined to succeed even when the task is unachievable.

For the most part it is a positive trait although sometimes someone can be too confident and they may “go for it” when this is not really warranted or prudent to do so. This confident and positive persona is in direct contrast to those people lacking in confidence and self-belief who generally experience self-doubt about their ability to complete the task in the first place. This often leads to them being tentative in their approach and easily unsettled by setbacks. They will feel undermined by these evaporating their confidence and self belief still further.

The two sub-scales within the Confidence ‘C’ are Confidence in Abilities and Interpersonal Confidence.

If you are High on Confidence in your Abilities you are likely to;

  • Feel a strong sense of meaning and purpose to your life and work which can help you develop the strength and perspective to overcome any setback or situation.

  • Know what matters to you, which defines the boundaries that help you keep your emotions and anxiety under control in stressful situations. As a result it helps you focus on the situation in hand and worry less about what could go wrong or what you can’t control.

  • Possess a deep self-belief that you can shape and control what happens to you and influence what is going on around you.

  • Readily accept new and difficult projects.

  • Are less dependent on external validation and tend to be more optimistic about life in general.

  • Don’t let mistakes get you down.

You can be too Over Confident of your Abilities, which might cause you to;

  • Overcommit.

  • Fail to see your own weaknesses.

  • Intimidate others, especially those with low confidence.

Alternatively, if you are Low on Confidence in your Abilities you are likely to;

  • Lack a degree of confidence in your own abilities, even when you know the subject

  • You may often expect things to go wrong and this may lead you to avoid difficult tasks.

  • You may get mistakes out of proportion, worrying about them for a considerable period of time.

  • You may have a tendency to be overly self critical, allowing negative self-talk to dominate your thoughts.

  • Have a missing inner belief and require others to build that.

With regards to the second sub-scale, if you are High on Interpersonal Confidence you are likely to;

  • Be more assertive and less intimidated by others.

  • Feel sufficiently confident to speak your mind and argue with others when you feel you are in the right.

  • Take charge of a situation and make your presence felt.

  • Be better able to handle difficult or awkward people.

  • Easily engage group and social environments.

  • Confidently argue with others who may be more knowledgeable.

You can also be Over Confident Interpersonally, which might cause you to;

  • Not back down in arguments, sometimes becoming aggressive.

  • Be insensitive to other’s views.

  • Suffer poor listening skills

  • Possess the gift of the gap which facilitates under preparation and “winging it”.

Alternatively if you are Low on Interpersonal Confidence you are likely to;

  • Lack self-belief often causing you to avoid putting yourself forward for tasks and responsibilities, which might cause you to underachieve.

  • Be reluctant to express a view in discussion or debate.

  • Be reluctant to ask questions “in case it makes you look stupid”.

  • Be reluctant to do presentations or verbal work.

  • Not show initiative for fear of being in the limelight. You may prefer to wait for instructions.

  • You may not always communicate problems as this can involve conflict and intimidation.

  • Accept criticism and ridicule even when not warranted.

  • Back down quickly when challenged.

  • Allow others to dominate.

  • Have difficulty dealing with assertive people.

Confidence therefore is important in getting the job done and communicating with and influencing other people. However, as always, it is a balance. Have too much confidence and you are in danger of being arrogant and overbearing, which can present as many challenges as lacking confidence and self-belief.

So, how do you develop your Confidence ?

The clues are in the descriptive above. It is important to develop a positive mindset, a reinforcing inner voice and adopt a ‘10 seconds of courage’ approach in situations where you really need to promote yourself.

If you are interested in finding out how you can implement and practice these strategies to build your inner confidence and self-belief, contact me at

Use This One Strategy to Identify Blockages To Your Success


I really enjoy working with individuals and teams to identify the goals they want to achieve and then identify what is getting in the way of them achieving that goal especially when it comes to working through change.

The 4Cs of Mental Toughness include Control, Commitment, Challenge and Confidence.

Focusing on a Challenging situation and working through this with learning and risk orientation to achieve your goals allows for outcomes and a significant sense of achievement.

MT with 4Cs+.png

A great strategy you can utilise to identify blockages to your goal setting success through change is to use a Force Field Analysis.

Kurt Lewin's Force Field Analysis is a powerful strategic tool used to understand what's needed for change in both corporate and personal environments. I love this article by Mark Connelly where he explains this great model and how you can use it.

Mark starts by using a little basic science to introduce the concept.

The Concept

Let's start with a simple science experiment (this really is relevant, so stay with me for a moment).

You'll need to sit down for this one. You're sitting? Good. Now, what's keeping you in the chair?

Well, there are two answers really. One is gravity which is pushing you down into the chair. A driving force, if you like.

The other is the chair itself, which provides an opposing force, pushing up against gravity, and stopping you falling to the ground.

So, it would seem that while you are sitting you're in an equilibrium of sorts.

Two forces keep you there. Gravity pushes down, keeping you in the chair, and the chair resists this, stopping you from falling to the ground.

Two equal forces, a driving force and a resisting or restraining force, working to keep the equilibrium or status quo.

Agreed? Okay, now let's say we want to move away from this equilibrium and get you to fall to the floor. What could we do?

Well, on the one hand we could increase the amount of gravity (our driving force). The chair will give way eventually and you will fall.

On the other hand, we could leave gravity alone and decide to weaken the chair (our restraining force) to get the same result.

If you've followed me this far then you've just completed a force field analysis and understood the basic concepts of the model. It also helps to explain why our science experiment is relevant.

You see, Kurt Lewin applied exactly this thinking to his theory of change within social situations - to people.

May the Force be with you, or against you.

Kurt Lewin views culture as being in a state of equilibrium.

He writes: "A culture is not a painted picture; it is a living process, composed of countless social interactions. Like a river whose form and velocity are determined by the balance of those forces that tend to make the water flow faster, and the friction that tends to make the water flow more slowly the cultural pattern of a people at a given time is maintained by a balance of counteracting forces." (Lewin, K. 1948. Resolving Social Conflicts, p.46.)

"To bring about any change, the balance between the forces which maintain the social self-regulation at a given level has to be upset" (Lewin, K. 1948. Resolving Social Conflicts, p.47.)

This describes the experiment we just did and is summarised in this diagram.

Force field analysis.jpg

So before change, the force field is in equilibrium between forces favourable to change and those resisting it. Lewin spoke about the existence of a quasi-stationary social equilibrium.

For change to happen the status quo, or equilibrium must be upset – either by adding conditions favourable to the change or by reducing resisting forces.

What Kurt Lewin proposes is that whenever driving forces are stronger than restraining forces, the status quo or equilibrium will change.

Now that's useful. Especially if we apply this to understanding how people move through change and why they resist change.

There will always be driving forces that make change attractive to people, and restraining forces that work to keep things as they are.

Successful change is achieved by either strengthening the driving forces or weakening the restraining forces.

The force field analysis integrates with Lewin’s three stage theory of change as you work towards unfreezing the existing equilibrium, moving towards the desired change, and then freezing the change at the new level so that a new equilibrium exists that resists further change.

Using the Force Field Analysis

Lewin's force field analysis is used to distinguish which factors within a situation or organisation drive a person towards or away from a desired state, and which oppose the driving forces.

These can be analysed in order to inform decisions that will make change more acceptable.

'Forces' are more than attitudes to change. Kurt Lewin was aware that there is a lot of emotion underlying people's attitude to change.

To understand what makes people resist or accept change we need to understand the values and experiences of that person or group.

Developing self-awareness and emotional intelligence can help to understand these forces that work within us and others. It’s the behaviour of others that will alert you to the presence of driving and restraining forces at work.

Use the following steps as a guide to using the force field analysis:

1.   Define the change you want to see. Write down the goal or vision of a future desired state. Or you might prefer to understand the present status quo or equilibrium.

2.   Brainstorm or Mind Map the Driving Forces - those that are favourable to change. Record these on a force field diagram.

3.   Brainstorm or Mind Map the Restraining Forces - those that are unfavourable to, or oppose change. Record these on the force field diagram.

4.   Evaluate the Driving and Restraining forces. You can do this by rating each force, from 1 (weak) to 5 (strong), and total each side. Or you can leave the numbers out completely and focus holistically on the impact each has.

5.   Review the forces. Decide which of the forces have some flexibility for change or which can be influenced.

6.   Strategize! Create a strategy to strengthen the driving forces or weaken the restraining forces, or both. If you've rated each force how can you raise the scores of the Driving Forces or lower the scores of the Restraining Forces, or both?

7.   Prioritize action steps. What action steps can you take that will achieve the greatest impact? Identify the resources you will need and decide how to implement the action steps. Hint: Sometimes it's easier to reduce the impact of restraining forces than it is to strengthen driving forces.

If you are looking to move through change and achieve your goals on the other side and want some coaching support through this process, contact Michelle Bakjac at

Michelle Bakjac is an experienced Psychologist, Organisational Consultant, Coach, Speaker and Facilitator. As Director of Bakjac Consulting, she is a credentialed Coach with the International Coach Federation (ICF) and a member of Mental Toughness Partners and an MTQ48 accredited Mental Toughness practitioner. Michelle assists individuals and organisations to develop their Mental Toughness to improve performance, leadership, behaviour and wellbeing.