The King’s Speech: A Coaching Story Worthy of An Oscar

ChessGeoffrey Rush (as Lionel Logue, a speech therapist) coaches Colin Firth (as King George VI) through a severe speech impediment. In dark days, as the world slides toward war, the country needs a king who can inspire confidence. The stakes are high.

As King George’s voice therapist, Lionel addresses the whole person in working with a deeply rooted pattern that traditional approaches had not been able to touch. Lionel is wholly unorthodox, in a very orthodox culture. As coach, he demonstrates many of the International Coach Federation Core Competencies:
3. Creating trust and intimacy
  • expresses support for the client by taking a stand for possibility, consistently believing and showing confidence that the king can learn to speak clearly and smoothly. A coach holds the belief in the client’s potential, even when the client doesn’t yet see the possibility.
4. Coaching presence
  • encouraging and allowing the client to fully express him/herself by insisting on an authentic relationship, not taking the role (even of the King!) seriously, and constantly speaking to the authentic person within. Lionel speaks to the human, even calling His Royal Highness “Bertie.” Our roles in life provide a sense of identity that keep us safe and our world predictable, and that reinforce habits. Increased identification with a role often makes it harder to change; a coach challenges limiting assumptions associated with role in order to liberate a greater range of actions and behaviours.
6. Powerful questions
  • questions use the client’s language and elements of the client’s learning style and frame of reference by engaging George’s body, working somatically by asking him to roll around on the floor, shake himself loose, and break his patterns of embodiment. Our habits are wired in our bodies: playing, singing, dancing, and changing rigidly held body shapes will nearly always reveal new possibilities.
7. Direct communication
  • shares observations, intuitions, comments, thoughts and feelings to serve the client’s learning or forward movement by recognizing, and letting go of, his own ego’s attachment to working with such a famous client. When he first heard who the prospective client was, we see him briefly respond to this pull. And, momentarily, he regroups and returns to his conditions for success, insisting that even the Duke of York must come to his studio for help.
8. Creating awareness
  • shares what s/he is noticing about the client and /or the client’s situation, and seeks the client’s input or exploration by impelling him into self-observation. Lionel confronts George with evidence that his stammering isn’t as unconquerable as he always thought. The recording of himself eloquently reading Shakespeare astonishes him, as do moments of articulateness when Lionel goads him to anger. Moments of realization open the possibility of more substantive and permanent change, and build his trust and commitment to the process. When we find cracks in the monoliths of our stories, we are able to see, and expand, the exceptions to build something new.
9. Designing actions
  • assists the client to design what actions/thinking client will do after the session in order for the client to continue moving toward the client’s desired outcomes by insisting that George practice new habits and new ways of doing things. The eccentric Lionel simply knows from experience what works, and insists that the King do his homework.
11. Managing progress & accountability
  • invites or allows client to consider her/his path forward, including, as appropriate, support mechanisms, resources and potential barriers by making strong requests to establish conditions for success. For example, the work will only be successful if it’s in Lionel’s workspace, and on a daily basis. The coach must insist that coaching be done in a way that can be successful. If the process is watered down in order to accommodate clients’ short term needs, they may not end up with the clients’ desired results. Everyone loses.
There’s much to be seen here. If you saw the movie already, see it again with these distinctions in mind. If not, make it a priority. This is somatic, whole person coaching, done before the term was invented.
  • What experiments could you try in your coaching, using distinctions from this film?
  • How might you be a bolder stand for your clients?
  • Where are you reluctant to make strong requests of your clients around conditions important for the success of coaching?
What other coaching elements or principles did you see Lionel doing that we can learn from? Based on an ICF blog by Doug Silsbee 14 Feb 2011

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