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.