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Coaching the Person, Not the Problem

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The best coaches make us recognize we have gaps in our reasoning. The moment we become unsure of what we know, learning happens. This is good coaching.

Even if all clients need from you in the moment is to be a sounding board as they sort through their thoughts, we can still use curiosity to partner with them to see themselves and the world in a broader way. Coaches facilitate this process in the way that Dewey imagined was possible.

We’ve Drifted Away from the Intention of Coaching

My second master’s degree is in adult learning/instructional design. I’ll never forget a professor saying we should always tell students what they would be tested on so they could focus their learning. As a student, I loved this advice. My hope was to get an A in the class. I wasn’t considering how I would apply what I learned when I graduated. I just wanted to learn enough to be an A student.

I still believe you should test what you teach, but a growing number of students in coach training programs worldwide are demanding to learn specific coaching steps to earn their credentials. The focus of learning has shifted to the test and away from the client relationship. ICF efforts to legitimize coaching by making it data-driven often overshadow the intention of coaching. Taking an evidence-based approach to limit assessor subjectivity is important, and behavioral descriptions are useful for trainers and mentors, but transferring specific requirements to students has contributed to thinking of coaching as a formulaic process. In attempts to make coaching memorable, the heart of coaching is disappearing.

The identified coaching competencies were never intended to be a checklist of behaviors. I was a part of the ICF leadership when the competencies were written. The focus was on the transformational experience where people learned from the inside out. The competencies weren’t meant to be taken in any order other than the beginning and ending—to determine where the conversation is going and then to close it out with a commitment. The remaining competencies reflected how present coaches are with their clients. Coaches need to fully receive what their clients say and express with no judgment. Then they could competently be curious about intentions and meaning. There isn’t one right way to coach; coaching is a spontaneous process between the coach and client.

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