As I gazed mindlessly into the cotton wool clouds that drifted slowly past me on my morning flight to Mumbai, this idea of being full and empty arrived unannounced. Maybe it was the book I was reading before my attention shifted to the clouds. The Zurich Axioms “the rules of risk and reward used by generations of Swiss bankers”. The seventh major axiom in the book shares this pearl of wisdom “A hunch can be trusted if it can be explained”. It goes on to elaborate that among other things a signal that a hunch can be trusted is when you examine if the underlying data and experience is strong. So, for example, if I get a hunch that the small-cap funds are going to perform well and I need to invest in them, I should ignore it because my knowledge about the markets is relatively poor and I have no experience at all in investing. (I heard someone say this but do not have enough depth of knowledge to validate or disagree)
However, when I get a hunch that “Full and empty is the secret to success” I can afford to explore it. On examination, this hunch is based on strong underlying data and experience gathered over close to 30 years in the consulting space and a lot of study and exploration of the coaching world.
Consulting needs a full tank approach: Full of knowledge, backed by the right intent as an approach, has held me in good stead over the years. when I have headed to meetings with clients prepare, prepare, prepare has been my mantra. Know my audience and their needs, ensure that I am oriented to be of service and focus on solving their problems or helping to build on their opportunities. This has been the formula. Every meeting I went into full of knowledge and good intentions often went really well and the outcomes were positive for both the client and me.
Coaching on the other hand needs the empty vessel approach: To create and hold space, I need to go in empty. It’s the client’s agenda. The client knows best. I do not need to advise using my knowledge and experience. I must not. The client is whole and complete. Resourceful and able to find their way forward with a little support from me the coach. Maybe through a shift in perspective and a self-reminder of what is truly important.
The hunch (full and empty) is to be super effective in both worlds – the yin and yang of consulting (full of knowledge and advice) and coaching (empty and without agenda, open to listening and honouring the client’s need) is a powerful place for any leader to visit.
As a consultant while I must have all my prescriptions and preparation. If I could add to that the willingness and ability to listen to what the client is not saying and explore that space to find out what is really needed, then I might deliver delight.
As a coach, if I do have a body of knowledge to tap into (about the person I am coaching and about the science of the process), and as a bonus about the specific subject and situation then while the vessel is empty it is designed for purpose. Intuition or a hunch about the right question to ask, when to challenge a client to explore an assumption or look at a limiting belief with fresh eyes can be the moment that delivers delight. Knowing when to remain silent could be what allowed the client to deeply explore a world they just caught a fleeting glimpse of. In that empty space which otherwise would have been filled up with conversation an insight often comes firmly into sight and takes root, leading to a shift in being or allowing for an action to emerge post the session.
I am reminded to work harder to prepare for each meeting – coaching or consulting. To show up open to explore and shift my perspective if new information presents itself. To be flexible and available, in the moment and in service of the client.
Fill up on knowledge and experience and then embrace the power of letting go (or at least suspending) your agenda. Trust in the process and when you get an intuition or a hunch explore it.
Full & Empty is the formula for success. Fill it. Shut it. But don’t forget it.
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