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Coaching the Person, Not the Problem

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Coaching competencies provide the framework to facilitate self-discovery. They are not a checklist of required statements and questions.

The early ICF leaders committed to building the coaching profession because of the positive impact we believed coaching would make in the world. The emphasis was on establishing a safe and caring relationship between coach and client so people felt seen and valued. Then, once agreement was reached on the outcome they would attempt to achieve, the conversation flowed naturally from the coach’s curiosity. The coach was not recalling memorized lists, models, and formulas. I am happy to see that the 2020 updated ICF competencies better reflect the aspirations of the founding members.

Coaching is more than reflecting and asking questions. Coaches must create a bond of trust that deepens over time. The relationship is essential for the coach to be an effective thinking partner. The courage, care, and curiosity coaches feel, and the belief they have in their clients’ potential, make the competencies work.

During my first class at my coaching school, the founder, Thomas Leonard, said we can learn how to coach only by getting out there and coaching people. We resisted, saying we didn’t know what to do. He said we would learn enough to start coaching after the first class, and then we should “just go love them.”

I have used this advice for over twenty years. Most times, I feel my clients love me back.

I want to bring the heart as well as the art of coaching into all of our conversations about coaching. I wrote this book to be a guide for all people who use coaching, regardless of the school they attend, the credential they earn, and the role they play.

Although part II provides practices that will ensure coaching effectiveness, the mental habits in part III are essential for establishing the relationship that makes coaching so powerful. You won’t find lists of what you should ask and say. You will discover how you can expand people’s capacity to learn and grow together in our complex, uncertain world. I honor you for choosing this journey.


1 Alfred Adler. Social Interest: Adler’s Key to the Meaning of Life.  Oneworld Publications, Oxford, England, 1998.

2 John Dewey, How We Think. D.C. Heath & Co. 1910, pg. 51.

3 ibid. pg. 9.

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