Context Matters to the Coach


Context is key. Until you understand the situation and its background, you can’t be effective as a leader or coach. With the context, you’re better prepared to ask relevant questions and share information that may be useful in helping someone move forward. Listen and learn more as Ralph and Bill discuss the importance of context.



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*Note: The following text is the output of transcribing from an audio recording. Although the transcription is largely accurate, in some cases may be incomplete or inaccurate due to inaudible passages or transcription errors



Bill Berthel: Welcome to the Get Emergent podcast, where we discuss leadership, team, and organizational topics and best practices. We like to provide ideas, concepts, and pragmatic experiments to help you develop your potential in your work in leadership. I’m Bill Burthal.

Ralph Simone: And I’m Ralph Simone.

Bill Berthel: So Ralph, today we’re going to talk about another concept, another topic around leader as coach, and that is that the context matters to the coach. Context matters,

Ralph Simone: We sometimes say in our weekly planning process, context before content.

Bill Berthel: Yes.

Ralph Simone: So you really need to understand the situation and maybe even some background to the situation before you can ask great questions before you can share information that may be helpful in moving someone forward.

Bill Berthel: So this really starts with the desire to understand as a coach, as leader as coach, starting with understanding the context, the why of the client or employee, their situation, maybe what’s going on on their team, what’s going on in the organization that comes first.

Ralph Simone: Absolutely. And I think we really have to slow down to go faster. If we’re internal leader as coach. I think sometimes we don’t know as much about our people as like an outside coach may know. We spend a fair amount of time in our coaching early on in the discovery process. We want to understand significant life experiences that, cause people to think and act the way they do. That’s part of context, part of imprinting. And then how are they bringing that or not bringing that into the current challenge or situation. Really important.

Bill Berthel: Well, it’s part of our strategic approach as an external coach to start with that discovery. We have the right excuse because we’re typically starting a relationship. I think what gets in the way often, and I’ll go back to my days as being an internal coach, as an HR professional, I would assume I knew my people.

Ralph Simone: Yeah.

Bill Berthel: I’ve worked with them for lengths of time, some decades. And that assumption was there, that I knew those folks. And that assumption wasn’t necessarily wrong, but I would sometimes miss the specific situation they were in. I would rely on the experience in the relationship more than the current state.

Ralph Simone: Yeah.

Ralph Simone: More than current state. And more than how the current state might be triggering things. Their past that we’re not aware of. And I think just, one thing I can think of is we’ve talked about this in previous podcasts. Let’s release judgment. Let’s start this conversation as if I don’t know much about you.

Bill Berthel: Fresh and new. Yeah.

Ralph Simone: Beginner’s eyes. Because we bring too much preconceived information into it and then we don’t really understand the situation. We may not understand some of the organizational or team dynamics that have occurred, and therefore we won’t ask the most effective questions, or we may not share information that’s relevant. I think relevancy is the key here.

Bill Berthel: Yes.

Ralph Simone: And so we want to take enough time understanding the why, not only the why of the situation, but the why of what drives behavior of this individual in these types of situations.

Bill Berthel: Yeah, so really keying in on the context allows us to be more relevant with our questions as a coach.

Ralph Simone: Absolutely. The context matters. You could spend hours on something that’s not even that important to somebody. And one of the things that I like to ask sometimes, and this helps with context, is what’s the real challenge here for you? and that may flesh it out. And oftentimes it’s about something in their own internal development or struggle that they’re having. It has nothing to do with the situation that they presented. So I think really getting a better understanding, we can be a lot more resourceful in the way in which we support someone.

Bill Berthel: So I love about that question is it can align things sooner or align things more readily. I think part of understanding context as a coach is also watching for congruencies, gaps that need deeper discovery. A clarifying question like you just asked could help get to the bottom or get to what’s really going on.

Ralph Simone: Well, this goes back to being conscious and asking good questions. So you ask somebody a question and their language is incongruent with their body language, or their tone, like, how are you doing? All good, it’s going great. Well, there’s an incongruity there. And so we need to kind of probe that a little bit and find out what’s underneath that. And it doesn’t seem so good. Ah. So what else can you tell me? Sometimes? Tell me more is a way of getting more context. But really, the understanding, the why, why is this the challenge for you? And what is the real challenge? Is it the situation? Is it you’re thinking about the situation? Is it you don’t feel you have the skills? What’s the best way for us to proceed?

Ralph Simone: Yeah.

Bill Berthel: So that’s as fundamental as knowing where we are so we can better navigate where we need to go.

Ralph Simone: Yeah.

Ralph Simone: And it’s listening, right. For limitations. It’s listening for those beliefs, those assumptions, those interpretations that may be either contributing to the challenge or preventing the person from taking a small step forward to mitigate the challenge.

Bill Berthel: And you say listening for that. Because our belief systems show up in our language, our limitations show up in our language. We hear that in our coaching clients’ or employees’ testimonies of their situations, of their experiences, and then we’re more able to help them move forward when we understand those limitations or those beliefs in life-shaping experiences they may have had.

Ralph Simone: Language creates the context. Language is generative. So if the language is limiting, it generates limits. If it’s empowering or possibility thinking, it yields that. I’m always interested and humbled when people share their backgrounds.

Ralph Simone: But I’m also interested in how some traits cut both ways. So I’ve talked to people who have work ethic is, one of their key five strengths. And one of the things they want to work on is work-life balance. And so just even helping contextualize for them, that one of their strengths, is actually creating a problem for them.

Bill Berthel: Sure, we’ve talked about this concept of both and thinking or both and dynamics in other podcasts, but our belief systems and our experiences typically do cut both ways. So as a coach, we get to guide people around that to best utilize in their current context. In that situation, which way would it cut better? Which way to utilize it?

Ralph Simone: I just had a group of guys on group coaching yesterday, and I love to talk about taking courses, pass fail. And the reason we started talking about it is in the context of if you have limited resources and you’re trying to do everything at 100%. And I said, well, first of all, why are you trying to do everything at 100%? You need 100 in everything. And these guys talked about context. They said, no, this thing, we only need to get a C. Yeah. I said, you just described my strategy of undergraduate. I took a course every semester, almost every pass fail, I took in a course outside my major that was of interest to me, that I wanted to learn about.

Bill Berthel: Yeah.

Ralph Simone: So the context, I was relaxed, I was easy, and I know I could, and some professors said, you should have taken this regular because you got an A, but I wasn’t overworking.

Bill Berthel: Right.

Ralph Simone: This is where I think people get hung up. So that’s why context matters. How much effort do you want to put into this when you’re coaching somebody? How does it fit in your priorities? How essential is it? So these are all of the things that frame I remember my brother-in-law telling me that if you get higher than a, 75 in any four parts of the CPA exam, you study too much because all you need is a 75 and no one ever sees your grade. He contextualized his effort for me. Right. It was pretty interesting. Pretty interesting.

Bill Berthel: Absolutely. In the lean manufacturing discipline, the client defines and pays for what quality is. If you overbuild the product and aren’t adding value to the client, it’s waste. It’s waste. So there could be wasted energy in our coaching. We really need to dial into the context so that’s the context of understanding the client, our employee situation, what’s going on for them and their team, what’s going on organizationally seeking, these congruencies, what’s aligned, what’s not, so we can do some deeper discovery. Listening for limitations, if there are any. For what? What are we driving towards, Ralph? What is this getting to?

Ralph Simone: Well, we’re driving towards performance. Right. We’re looking to perform in a way that we can perform again and again and again.

Bill Berthel: Love it.

Ralph Simone: I used to get in arguments with my karate instructors because they said, Give 110%. I said, well, it’s impossible, right? And the guy says, Seems like you’re taking a little easy on this exercise. I said, I am, so that I can make it through the two and a half hours. So I contextualize it for him. But I think we want to make those choices intentionally. And so part of Leader as Coach is we have to understand the context in which we’re navigating. We have to make sure that we don’t let our values or what’s important to us get in the way of understanding the situation that the particular employee is in. And I think part of our goal is to help them see the situation that they’re in. And where does it fit in the scheme of things?

Bill Berthel: I think it is I think oftentimes when we have that opportunity to coach, whether they’re external coaches like us, or whether you’re an internal coach or Leader as coach, that we get this opportunity to guide our employee or our client through reframing limitations, whether perceived or real, exist. And being able to see around those limitations towards performance and towards action is part of the job of the coach to help reframe those situations.

Ralph Simone: This gets at sometimes people spin their wheels around what and how, and this gets at their why. When we understand the context in the spirit of the client or employee’s life, we understand why it’s important to them and we help them see that and almost kind of prioritize. And then you want to calibrate your effort to the importance of the activity.

Bill Berthel: Yeah, absolutely.

Bill Berthel: So if I want to become a better coach, I’m a leader, I want to coach my people more effectively. What can I do to start dialing in to understand context?

Ralph Simone: You can certainly listen more and be intentional about background, kind, of telling people to explain things that they think are relevant to the challenge at hand. I think you can also bring up the topic of pass fail. Do you need to get an A in this, or is it enough just to pass? Help to get people thinking about context from that perspective? It’s amazing, though. we coach a lot of high achievers. I don’t even think they thought pass fail was an option. Right. And it’s a belief system. I got to get an A in everything. Why?

Ralph Simone: Right.

Ralph Simone: And so you begin to allow people to look at it perhaps from a different perspective. I never constrained myself with that need to get an A in everything. It required too much effort. It required too much effort.

Bill Berthel: Yeah.

Bill Berthel: Which, depending upon the context, it could be waste.

Ralph Simone: Outside my major, it was. Outside my major, it was.

Bill Berthel: Awesome. Thank you. Hey, folks, and thanks for listening. To learn more about our offering Leader as Coach, please visit Thank you.

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