Nine Coaching Lessons from “The King’s Speech”

It’s been quite a while since I saw the beautiful movie “The King’s Speech“. Many comments have been made about this work, but I’d like to focus on nine lessons that this story gives us about the office of a coach.

 

1. Chose your field

Lionel Logue – Bertie’s (the future King George VI) coach – does not accept to go to the royal palace for the coaching sessions. He works in an environment he knows, and with the rules he sets. Sometimes, as coaches, we accept conditions (space, time,…) that we know we shouldn’t. Is this because we believe that the client is king ?

2. Aknowledge your mistakes

At some point in the movie, Logue pushes his client to an extreme. The scene is quite violent and the relationship seems to be broken. Only Logue’s deep and authentic humility (He tells the King : “I’ve been too far” ) can restore the confidence. It is only when we accept and do not hide our own limitations that we are believable as coaches.

3. Listen for the unheard voice

One element that I found really strong in the movie is the identification between the King’s story and his people’s story. In a way, we can say that the King is legitimate because his voice has not been heard, just as the voices of all the British soldiers coming back from WWI. Logue’s mission – like any coach’s mission – is to listen to that unheard voice and to give it possibilities to be amplified.

4. Train the mechanics AND become a friend

It is very touching to see how Logue is at the same time on a very technical mode , i.e. training the physics (the mechanics ?) of speech AND on a relational mode that makes him become one of the very few friends of the King. This is really key because many times we just focus on our technical expertise, forgetting that, at the end of the day, it is not technique that makes the difference. I think that you can only coach well someone you would be happy to have as a friend, which implies a deep understanding and confidence, but also a strong community of values. Having said that, I do not dismiss tools and methods, since this is what establishes credibility from Day 1. It is  truly helpful for George VI because, without it, the King would never have undertaken the journey !

5. Don’t forget you are not the only coach

The character of George VI’s wife, Elizabeth, is really beautifull. She is the main driver to the King’s changes. She sets the first appointment with Logue, she encourages the King during the process, she sees the political importance of radio in resisting Hitler’s domination. So, Logue is not the only coach. This is something you have to accept : the development of your coachee does not only depend on you. This is bad news for those who see coaching as a way to have power ! But very good news if you think that – in your work as a coach – you can count on many other allies.

6. Be coached

Logue also has a wonderful coach : his wife. She helps him a lot during the whole process. She gives him both advice and support when it becomes too difficult to handle. OK, many people may say that your beloved one cannot be your supervisor. I do not agree fully, but… my main point here is that you cannot coach if you do not have a steady experience of being coached.

7. Focus on revealing the inner Greatness

This point is probably one of the most obvious when you read about coaching, but it is beautifully shown in the movie. Logue believes deeply in the possibility for the King to face the responsibility that History gives to him. As a coach, he sees and works with what is best inside George VI. In fact, I don’t know how you can coach without this belief that your client has the capacity to search, find and develop her greatness, whatever the circumstances.

8. Trust your empirical knowledge

Logue is not a certified coach ! He has worked with many soldiers coming back from WWI and has built his expertise on his own observations, his own intents and maybe his own mistakes. Don’t hide behind your diplomas or references. Each coachee is a new “case”, a new opportunity to learn. Each coachee also brings to you part of the solution. You are not alone, and this is probably what makes coaching closer to an art than to a mere developmental technique : isn’t it something like a dance between coach and coachee, when it is at its best ?

9. Be a human

Logue is first and foremost a human being. In fact, the Aha ! moment for the King comes precisely when he dares to accept his own humanity. What separates him from the rest of the world (his kingdomness) is also what separates him from himself. Because Logue had the innocence (or the courage ?) to talk to him from a human being to another human being, the King can aknowledge that he too is a human. Maybe the fact that Logue is not British helps him to talk to the King with such freedom. Maybe. But establishing the relationship at this level is the key to all what happens in this story. This is something we tend to forget (or we are often afraid of) in our profesional relationships.

Thank you, Tom Hooper (Director), Colin Firth (Bertie), Geoffroy Rush (Lionel Logue) and Helena Bonham Carter (Elizabeth) for these simple though deep lessons !

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