Coaching like a Viking

by David Papini |1

Like most parents, I am exposed to a lot of cartoon movies (most of them full of cleverly engineered cross-generational stimuli and layers) and also repeatedly to the same one, with a frequency inversely proportional to the child’s age. When an adult starts watching the same cartoon for the nth time, he or she can react in two ways: blankly staring at the video letting his or her mind wander to a more interesting place or trying to consciously watch the movie, paying attention to details escaped in the first nth minus one session.

Or the reactions can mix, and that’s what happened to me while watching a dialog between two young Vikings, Astrid and Hiccup, in the movie-cartoon How to Train your Dragon. The dialog lasts for one minute and five seconds, and the last time I watched it I suddenly realized I was watching a masterful and efficient coaching session, with Astrid as the coach and Hiccup as the client. The relationship between the two is already well esta­blished, but it is the first time in the movie that Astrid purposefully tries to help Hiccup. Here is the dialogue with my commentary and the corresponding IAC Masteries #.

Dialogue Comments (IAC Mastery# ) |2
Astrid: “It’s a mess.” The coach [Astrid] starts with a reality check, emotionally participating (through her facial expression and tone of voice) but without making discounts on reality. Tone is appropriate for the relationship that exists between the two and their cultural setting as Vikings. (#5)
Astrid: “You must feel horrible. You’ve lost everything: your father, your tribe, your best friend.” The coach challenges the client [Hiccup] sentiments and further details the reality check (“must” is a little strong, but it is culturally appropriate, they are Vikings, client does not expect to be asked “how do you feel” and in general he does not expect his sentiments to be acknowledged, so Astrid’s choice to acknowledge them in an authoritative and challenging manner is a good balance between acknowledging emotions and respecting cultural mind frame). (#4)
Hiccup: “Thank you for summing that up.” The client feels acknowledged and validated in the messy situation, and bitterly acknowledges that the coach summarized the tough reality. (#3)
Hiccup: “Why couldn’t I have killed that dragon when I found him in the woods? Would have been better for everyone.” The client willingly shares his concern, fears and doubt. He is asking himself the questions. The coach’s reality check allows the client to raise questions about what he did, about the past. Establishing a relationship of trust. (#3)
Astrid: “Yep. The rest of us would’ve done it.” The coach masterfully acknowledges the client’s judgment and uses it to underline the client’s uniqueness. (#2)
Astrid: “So why didn’t you?” The coach challenges the client, following the client’s logic and at the same time reinforcing the client’s individuality. (#1, #2)
Hiccup: “…” The coach allows some silence before asking again. The client starts working on the answer, showing that the coach’s questions are working as a command to explore. (#3)
Astrid: “Why didn’t you?” The coach identifies the most important issue, uncovering the unknown and insistently keeping the client on point. (#1, #6)
Hiccup:” I don’t know. I couldn’t.” The client is struggling to find an answer, and comes out with two disempowering negations, avoiding accountability. (#3)
Astrid: “That’s not an answer.” The coach keeps the client focused and does not collude with him. (#3)
Hiccup: “Why is this so important to you all of a sudden?” The client reacts by blaming the coach (in the tone of voice) and again trying to put responsibility (response-ability, i.e., ability to respond) on the coach. (#5)
Astrid: “Because I want to remember what you say right now.” The coach declares her commitment to the client’s success, and takes responsibility for her role as a witness to his success or failure. (#2)
Hiccup: “For the love of… I was a coward. I was weak. I wouldn’t kill a dragon.” The client continues to avoid accountability by blaming (this time himself). (#1)
Astrid: “You said ’wouldn’t’ that time.” The coach gives her full attention to the words and nuances. She sticks to what and how the client tells the story, catches the verb “wouldn’t” and focuses the client on the difference between feeling non-capable (couldn’t) and feeling he made a choice (wouldn’t).  (#3)
Hiccup: “Whatever! I wouldn’t! Three hundred years and I’m the first Viking who wouldn’t kill a dragon.” The client freely expresses his emotions, acknowledging the difference between could and would and reframing the experience by incorporating the fact that he wanted to behave differently. Silence indicates that client and coach are both working to deepen their mutual understanding of the situation. (#1)
Astrid: “First to ride one, though. So?” The coach challenges the limiting beliefs of what a Viking should do, to recognize a wider range of possibilities and transcend barriers. The coach leverages the idea of difference and adds one that is positive and rewarding for the client. (#2, #7, #8)
Hiccup: “I wouldn’t kill him because he looked as frightened as I was. I looked at him and I saw myself.” The client has an insight and acknowledges his emotions. (#1)
Astrid: “I bet he’s really frightened now. What are you going to do about it?” The coach expands the client vision to include the dragon and how the dragon feels, and then calls the client to action. (#2)
Hiccup: “Ehh. Probably something stupid.” The client makes a timid move toward action, but then negatively connotes it with his words, while his body language says he is starting to see a possibility. (#7)
Astrid: “Good, but you’ve already done that.” The coach acknowledges the client resolution but pushes the client to look for excellence in stupidity, to try something new and move further. The coach does not judge the value of calling the move stupid, but simply leverages it to encourage the client to augment what he is really capable of. (#6, #7, #8)
Hiccup: “Then something crazy.” The client gets the hint, resolves to action and leaves. (#6, #7)
Astrid: “That’s more like it.” The client is more excited about the future, the client has a realization that removes a mental obstacle, the client is engaged and excited about new direction. The coach acknowledges that the client made a shift and is ready to act at his maximum potential, moving beyond his current paradigms. (#2, #7)

When I started the IAC certification process I thought that showing all nine masteries in half an hour would be nearly impossible. Then I started practicing (which I still am), signed my learning agreement and submitted my first session. Half an hour now seems like a lot of time—Astrid spent a mere 1/24 of this time with Hiccup. She’s now in my Top 10 list of masterful coaches, having helped her client make a shift in 75 seconds—now that’s coaching like a Viking!