At the Supervision Conference at Oxford Brookes a few weekends ago, Guy Claxton was the keynote and he told this story. Once upon a time a man saw a moth just as it was breaking out of its chrysalis. He watched the moth struggle to get through the casing – it seemed to have spurts of battling, it would make some progress and then it would stop perhaps pausing to regain its strength. He watched for a long time, thinking about what a difficult welcome into the world it was. The moth continued to battle and progress – it was nearly out. Then things slowed, the moth didn’t move for a long time. The man was a kindly man and he wondered what he could do to help. He put his hand into his pockets as he paused for thought and discovered a pair of scissors. In an instant he decided to take the scissors and snip the last bit of the chrysalis to allow the moth out. The new moth fell out of the chrysalis looking rather swollen bodied and with its wings crumpled. The man watched as the moth attempted to spread its wings. It was to no avail – the moth did not survive. The man later learned that it is the moth’s final struggle to exit the chrysalis that gives it the capacity to survive. In that final struggle the moth pumps the blood from its body to its limbs and wings. Ironically with the good intent of saving the moth from its struggle he had unwittingly caused its demise.
I’d heard the story before but he then asked the question “How is this story relevant to coaching?”.
For me the resonance was clear – how often are we drawn to “help” and yet unwittingly undermine our client’s independent capacity ? On many more occasions than we care to admit to I suspect! Just a little bit of a leading question. Just a little bit of feedback from our view of the world ….. The man in the story was naïve, he simply didn’t know the impact his actions would have. I suspect he would not make the same mistake twice – indeed given a similar opportunity he might have greater patience even excitement as he watched a moth emerge – it would no longer be perceived as a struggle or a battle it would be seen as an essential warm-up routine for its future adventures.
As coaches we are not naïve – we know that change is most sustainable when it originates from the client itself. And so why is it that despite that knowledge, we have moments when in an instant, the scissors are out to lend, what we intend to be, a helping hand? Perhaps the cause is our impatience for insight to occur, or an assumption that we have information that the client does not have, or our desire to demonstrate our value or our habit or preference for playing the expert? Or perhaps we don’t yet know what those triggers truly are? So when we find it difficult to stick with our clients struggle, perhaps our attention is going to the wrong direction? Is it not sometimes easier to support our clients than to look inwards and consider what we are struggling with ? So when you next act with good intent and reach for your scissors – what does that begin to tell you about you? What is it that you are struggling with – as a coach, as a person as an element in the system? Why not dive in and enjoy your own struggle – every conundrum will drive blood into your wings…..