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The Conscious Coach as Midwife

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Maryellen Weimer (2010) (4) picks up the midwife as a Metaphor for Teaching. Her description of the teacher as a midwife offers valuable insights into our exploration of the coach as a midwife. I have paraphrased her description interchanging teacher with the coach. The coach-midwife is there at the birth of insight. She has attended many other births, been with many other coachees as they have gone through the arduous process of change. It is a joyful, exciting event, but not without pain—sometimes the pain is long and intense, causing the coachee to despair and lose hope. But the coach-midwife understands. She knows that sometimes progress is slow. She also knows how much more pain lies ahead and what the coachee might try to ease the discomfort and expedite the process. The coach-midwife offers encouragement; her presence is reassuring.

Although most births are similar, no two are identical, in the same way, that coachees change journey follows patterns but is always unique. Sometimes problems arise. The coach-midwife knows what to do. She is prepared, not with a script, but with knowledge, a wealth of previous experience, generative questions, and resources she can summon. It is when problems emerge that the midwife’s presence is most needed and appreciated.

The birthing event joins midwife and mother in a shared quest. Midwives are not the ones giving birth any more than coaches are there to do the work for their coachees. What the coachee is struggling to learn the coach may already know. But midwives still struggle. They strive to figure out the best way to help, support, guide and encourage the mother. Birth and learning require both coach and mother to expend effort. They work together, but they tackle the problem in different ways. When the insight and change do finally arrive, credit for having given birth goes to the coachee. Just like the midwife’s, the coach’s job now is to share the joy and wonder.

Weimer’s description of the teacher and by extension coach as midwife invokes a different language set. This language is less about performance, effectiveness, efficiency, targets, alignment, and achievements. Her language evokes a raw human experience described as one of pain, unpredictability, patience, unforeseen problems, trauma, joy, and wonder. This metaphoric expression invites a different paradigm for coaching practice. It also invites coaches to prepare themselves for a different calling that is more sacred, powerful, and potentially transformative.

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