Did the earth move?

As a Leadership Coach of a number of years, I may be about to say something that upsets my fellow coaches, or worse, loses me future business as a coach! But, I’ll risk it for the sake of sharing what I believe needs to be said.  As coaches (and probably as clients too) we shouldn’t expect too much from the ‘coaching session’ itself.

What do I mean by this?  Well, I know there are coaches (and I have had this feeling too at times), who worry that, if the ‘earth doesn’t move’ for their clients during the coaching session, they must being doing something wrong.  We dream of our clients having ‘eureka’ moments, where the lights go on, and the path to their future vision becomes clearly illuminated.  Not only is this an unrealistic expectation (at least on each and every coaching engagement), it also ignores the fact that people are very different in the way that they process information and how they deal with issues of change.  I speak from personal experience in this matter.

There have been times, when I have been receiving coaching, that I have worried about how I have been showing up in the session. Sometimes I have felt less than engaged, or sensed that I had made the session unnecessarily challenging for the ‘poor coach’. I know (with my coach’s hat on) that I needn’t have worried about that. Coaches, are, after all, professionally trained and skilled in both supporting and challenging their clients, as appropriate, however they show up.

What I do know, from personal experience, is that my ‘eureka’ moments have tended to happen far away from the coaching session, and at moments when I am least expecting it. You see, I like models and frameworks. I enjoy concepts, paradigms and theories. My preferred method of processing information tends to be to absorb new thinking, to test ideas out against internal models of thinking, reflect, and allow things to incubate. And, it’s against this background of ‘internal processing’,  that I often experience ‘breakthrough’ moments, sometimes hours, sometimes days after the session has ended.  Please don’t take away the view that this renders the coaching session redundant.  In fact, in my experience as a  client, the reality is quite the opposite. The richness of conversations and the new ideas that surface within coaching sessions are, for me, key stimulants which prime my brain for the processing that continues well beyond the confines of the coaching itself.

Now, I am not saying I am typical, but neither do I believe I am unique. I am sure many people need time to try out new ways of thinking, put ideas that may have emerged in the coaching session into practice, test things out against existing and new internal models, and come to the next coaching session ready to share and work with ‘whatever has shifted’.

This raises another important issue about the role of the coach in the coaching relationship. Some might argue (from a purist perspective) that a coach’s job is not to be directive, that the agenda is down to the client, that the coach should not venture into ‘teaching’ mode, that the coach should instead focus on using the primary skills of powerful questioning and active listening.  I have been reading a new book on coaching by John Blakey and Ian Day this past week, and I have been most impressed by the ideas it is putting forward. Challenging Coaching is a book which challenges the traditional and purist coaching orthodoxies, and dares coaches to be more risky, more edgy and more challenging in their approach. This is, after all, what our clients are paying us for;  to help them find ways to move forward and stretch themselves in ways that they have been unable to previously.  If our clients are hungry for input in the form of models, theories and paradigms that might help them to formulate and test their ideas for change, then I believe it is a valid part of our role as  coaches to introduce this sort of knowledge into the session.  This does not mean that the basic skills and principles of traditional coaching should be jettisoned.  Of course, they must remain fundamental to how coaches operate. But, there is room for greater challenge and injection of ideas, models and concepts.  Blakey and Day encapsulate this in one of their new principles of coaching, which they call ‘Speak your Truth’.

  • Coaches recognise and accept that everyone’s truth is different and equally valid
  • Coaches are prepared to speak honestly, take risks, and challenge others to enter what they call the ZOUD (Zone of Uncomfortable Debate)
  • Coaches hold people accountable for their actions, and represent absent stakeholders who have an investment in the success of the coaching (e.g sponsors, line managers, colleagues, customers)

So, Coaches. Don’t expect the earth to move for your clients in every coaching session. It is wonderful if it does, but it is more than likely going to happen at some point when you are not present. And, it is more likely to happen somewhere if, during the session, you coach with challenge, on the edge, and in the zone of uncomfortable debate.

If you are ready to experience ‘challenging coaching’ and to enter the Zone of Uncomfortable Debate, please do get in touch. Simply submit your contact details on the Contact Us page and I will be delighted to contact you for an initial chat.


7 thoughts on “Did the earth move?

  1. Louis…your fourth paragraph is MBTI Introverted Thinking at its best. Analyze, measure against contextual frameworks…learn, create and go out on a limb and share once you have clearly thought it through from all angles. Love it because that is my world. My experience is that those who are not in this zone find the approach both refreshing and extremely helpful. It helps the Extroverted Thinker reconsider their step by step plan for greater efficiency; the Introverted Feeler to challenge their values & if necessary recreate the process; and the Extroverted Feeler to reconsider if the actionable impact on people is a proper use or an improper abuse so people are being positively affected. For some the process is seamless, for other it shocks them into personal confrontation that demands a resolve. Regardless, I would think that “Challenging Coaching” is on to something great…Murray

  2. Hi Louis

    I loved the article most of all for its honesty and courage … and the analysis that you have clearly thought through! I sincerely hope you do not lose business because of this. I also smiled widely as I read it and Murray’s response, as I am a confirmed ENFP!

    Kind regards


    • John & Louis…just for the fun of it… the acronym and prayer for each of our MBTI Styles…

      John – ENFP
      Everyday New Fantastic Possibilities
      God, please help me to keep my mind on one………………………………Oh Look a butterfly!……………………….thing at a time.

      Louis – ISTJ
      I Save Things Judiciously
      Lord, help me to relax my focus on insignificant details, even though any of them may cause significant problems later. Begin this tomorrow at 8:31:04 am.

      Murray – ISTP
      I See The Problem
      God, please help me to consider other people’s feelings, even if most of them ARE excessively hypersensitive.

      Do they fit????


      • Unfortunately mine does fit – and I spend most days fighting with it. My goodness, wouldn’t the three of us in a room make for an explosive session !!!

    • Louis…don’t say unfortunately because each type brings high value to an organization. It is in the recognition of those differences that we discover each others genuine contribution. Explosive…probably…but that is why acceptance & relationship are so important. With no relationship it would be simply explosive. With relationship and vested interest that high emotion can be translated into creative tension that leads to whole productivity.

      If we three met with a proposal in mind here is how it would functionally play out…

      You and I would focus that proposal on the organization of the people, while John’s focus would be on the people of the organization.

      At a primary level, you would go into your vast historical inner resources and look for past experiences that relate to the proposal (Introverted Sensing). To recall a good experience would leave you open; a bad experience a red light and no experience a yellow light, needing the time to consult your tight network looking for people who can give you trustworthy feedback so you could move forward with security and confidence.

      I would immediately go inside to analyse the proposal (Introverted Thinking) and try to put into into a logical, knowledge based framework that cones together. My acceptance would depend on how it fits. If it does, I’d move forward quickly, if not then I’d need the time to make the necessary adjustments to either the framework or proposal.

      John would immediately want to see the emergent possibilities the proposal could generate and want to talk about it (Extroverted Intuition)…but you and I would be consumed with your need to recall and mine to analyze. Our blank Introverted looks would frustrate John’s need to interact and create something exciting.

      You need to understand that our dominant function is up to 100 times more efficient than our second function. That gives you an idea of the power & strength or our primary responses, not only within each as individuals but as our functions naturally compete with one another.

      At a secondary level of function…should you (Louis) be satisfied to move forward, would immediately take the Leadership role and work in the step by step organized implementation of the proposal (Extroverted Thinking). Note…you would take the lead of the three of us. I would be comfortable so long as it has been well thought through to satisfy what I know, but may object to the tight structure that could lack flexibility. John may feel that we haven’t measured it out against future possibilities and feel slighted that there wasn’t enough discussion when viewed through the lens of “Big Picture” limiting the proposal to what it is instead of what it could be.

      If it passed my analysis, I would be in it for immediate implementation for the greatest impact lest we lose the opportunity (Extroverted Sensing). For me it would be all about the now and maximizing the impact. Implementation would create an emotional rush that would energize me, though I may rebel to your step by step initiation wanting to go more with “the flow”.

      Then when John enters the scene, if he buys into it, he will be the catalyst that gets everyone else in the company on board BUT ONLY if he feels that we haven’t sacrificed the future in light of your history and my ‘in the moment’ experience. You and I would have to consciously bring him into dialogue to hear him out because you and I extrovert out second function where John extroverts his first. While you and I are extroverting the structure and action steps, John will secondarily consult his second, Introverted Feeling, a values based process that will determine if any of his values were violated asking, “Is this even important? “. If the proposal passed his values test then he would actually become the emotional energy that drives it forward, If it doesn’t pass, then the project would have an immovable opponent especially if people could get hurt if the proposal was implemented

      So what are my conclusions…Lead Teams must be able to relate to one another at both a personal and functional level so we don’t take acceptance or rejection of a proposal personally. Lead Teams must understand the inward functional differences that we each possess…and that those functions are extremely powerful. They are needed to have healthy creative input to an overall process though too often the level of competition and frustration that arises tears the team apart. IF the Lead Team can work in Accord (as one in despite the differences… orchestrate would be the word) then the organization has the potential of being a force to contend with that can overcome anything.

      Hope this had been beneficial to Patterns of Human Dynamics! It is what I do.


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