Monday, February 14, 2011

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

Posted on Monday, February 14, 2011 by International Coach Federation

Many of you, I'm sure, have already seen the great movie, The King's Speech. It's a terrific story, and should be required viewing for any coach.

Geoffrey 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:

Insists 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 behaviors.

Recognizes, and lets 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.

Takes 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.

Makes 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.

Engages 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.

Impels 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.

Insists 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.

Practice is the essence of creating sustainable change and growth. Neuroplasticity, though Lionel had never heard the term, allows the changing of even deeply rooted behaviors and patterns of thought; practice is the key.

Ultimately, with any new behavior, we must put it in action. Quoting Yoda, "there is only do or not do. There is no try." It is in the present moment that intentions and aspirations meet the world: the ideal meets the actual.

The terrific final scene, in which King George speaks to the entire British Empire (at that time, close to 1/3 of the planet's population) is taut with tension, as the King's capacity to go beyond his time-worn habit is tested in a grave moment. (By the way, I intend to use the sublime third movement of Beethoven's 7th Symphony as a backdrop to all my dramatic coaching moments from here on out!)

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.

Doug Silsbee
• 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?

Posted by Doug Silsbee; see other posts, or add comments, at

1 comment:

  1. Hey Doug!
    Congratulations on an intelligent, articulate and relevant article on the power and fun available in an "authentic" Coaching Partnership. I have recommended your post to people looking to work with a Coach, as it clearly outlines what is conditions are important to successful Coaching partnerships.
    Thank you!
    Catherine Wood


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.