What can Managers and Coaches Learn from the King’s Speech?13th Jan, 2011
The following is an excerpt from the new film The King’s Speech:
“Listen to me. Listen to me.
Why should I waste my time listening to you?
Because I have a voice!
Yes, you do.”
It is a poignant moment. A moment when Bertie, King George VI, claims his real, authentic voice and so, perhaps for the first time, believes in himself as king.
If you have seen the film you no doubt recognise the above clip. If you have not yet seen the film it is highly recommended. The critics all agree that this is a marvelous film. It has everything – faultless casting, Oscar-worthy performances from Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham-Carter, a superb script and, of course, a storyline that would be unbelievable if it were not true. To watch the trailer click here . It is also a great example of coaching.
In the opening scene we see Bertie, the Duke of York miserably make his way to give the closing address at the Empire Exhibition in 1925, looking like a condemned man on his way to the scaffold.
The closing scene sees the now King George VI deliver his first daunting war-time address with a measured, regal performance. The manner in which he overcame his problems with sheer persistence and practise, enabled by expert coaching, is inspiring.
Bertie reluctantly became king when his brother, King Edward VIII, abdicated to marry Wallis Simpson, a divorcee. Bertie had grown to dread public speaking as he had stammered since childhood. Now, as king, it was an expected duty.
The film describes how he engaged an Australian born coach, Lionel Logue, to help him with his public speaking.
I believe that there is a lot that coaches can learn from observing how Lionel works with Bertie. Even if you don’t think of yourself as a coach, there are some good lessons for anyone who has to influence someone with more formal power and authority. Here are some of my thoughts, I am sure you will have ideas of your own.
The characteristics of the coach:
Initial contract/Setting clear boundaries: One of the most interesting aspects of The King’s Speech is how clear Lionel was in establishing boundaries that enabled him to break through Bertie’s reflexive defences. By insisting that they would address each other by first names, Lionel established a relationship of equals in the coaching domain. Their sessions were held on Lionel’s turf, in his office. This enabled him to stipulate, “My castle, my rules”. Lionel even says at one stage “I haven’t agreed to take you on yet”. As a coach you only want a coachee who has truly ‘signed up’.
Planning: Lionel had clearly planned the initial session to demonstrate immediately that progress was possible.
Self-Belief: Lionel showed remarkable self-belief. In coaching it is often said that the coach will only get the results they believe possible. Lionel’s 100% belief that he could make a difference was empowering. Self-belief also comes from experience – Lionel knew he had done it before and knew it worked. He was an expert coach and he believed in the tools and techniques he used and he knew how to apply them. However it was interesting that we see Lionel failing to get a part in a small amateur dramatics play – you don’t have to be a superstar in what you are coaching to be an expert coach, but you do need self-belief.
Build Rapport: Lionel built rapport by being patient when he needed to be, being challenging when he needed to be and sharing his background and interests. The bond between them grew so strong that the King started to regard Lionel as a friend. However, it wasn’t all plain sailing. At times the rapport was broken as Lionel forced the pace too much causing his royal client to back away from coaching. For coaching to succeed there needs to be rapport.
Reinforcement of the positive: Lionel consistently reinforced the positive, giving verbal praise and lots of non-verbal encouragement, smiles, nods etc. He also realised that the King’s natural style of delivery, a burst of coherent speech punctuated by pauses, could be cultivated into a very distinctive and authoritative style and so he encouraged this. A positive and encouraging outlook is essential.
Lionel establishes the coaching environment as a place of “trust, equality and safety”. Physically the coaching always took place in Lionel’s well-worn, but very comfortable, light and airy office. As Lionel prepares his royal client to deliver his 1939 speech he takes time to replicate this environment at Buckingham Palace ensuring that the broadcast takes place in a private, comfortably decorated room with natural light and fresh air. The environment in which coaching takes place influences the outcome.
Tools and techniques:
Lionel displays an innovative use of an eclectic range of coaching tools and techniques:
Mind and Body. Lionel realised that, in order to get the voice working, he needed the whole mind and body to be involved and he used a variety of weird and wonderful techniques to get the King to realise how the way he stood, the way he breathed, the thoughts he had, all impacted on his performance. For example, at one stage, Lionel suggests that the King adopts the mantra, “I have the right to be heard” for his self-talk. Coaching often requires a holistic approach.
Reframing. Lionel enables Bertie to remove all the barriers associated with the disastrous 1925 speech – speaking in front of a large audience of strangers, in unfamiliar surroundings, with no support. Before the 1939 speech Lionel creates a totally reframed image saying to the King, “Forget everything else, just say it to me”. Reframing by the coach provides new insights and enables new ways of thinking to emerge.
Use of humour. Just before Bertie makes his 1939 speech he thanks Lionel for all his hard work and wonders how he can ever repay him. Quick as a flash Lionel retorts, “a Knighthood perhaps?” Humour, used appropriately, can help build rapport and allow the coachee to relax.
Getting to the underlying issues and the psychological dimension. At the outset the King and Queen request that Lionel stick to the mechanics of the voice and don’t get involve in personal issues. However Lionel quickly realises that the stammer only appeared when the King was five and that there were underlying issues of self-confidence to be addressed. Often the presenting issue is not the real issue to be solved and it is the coach’s job to ‘unpeel’ the layers of issues to get to the core.
Challenging beliefs. Lionel uses a combination of powerful questions and influential language to get Bertie to challenge his beliefs around public speaking. Several times Lionel demonstrates to Bertie that his stammering is not there all the time. Lionel cleverly makes the link in Bertie’s mind that this is proof that he is able to make the speeches. Challenging beliefs is core to enabling transformations.
The transformation of King George VI shown in the King’s Speech demonstrates the power of Coaching.
Whose performance could you impact through coaching?
Which coaching skills can you use to make a difference?
How can coaching help you?
Food for thought?
‘The King’s Speech’, by Mark Logue and Peter Conradi, is published by Quercus Books. The film of the same name is now on general release.