Updated: Feb 10
There are many ways to coach people, and the name “coach” covers a wide range of occupations. In this article I will share with you what I mean by it, and how I practice it. In further articles, I will explore other aspects of coaching as well (Such as the coaching framework, training, supervision and deontology).
This article reflects my thoughts, my readings, and my own practice. Others may view it differently, and that is fine. One thing we all agree on is that what most contributes to a succesful coaching experience is the quality of the relationship between you and your coach.
And with this, let us get started.
When to call a coach?
You do not need to be in trouble to call a coach.
If your situation has already reached crisis point, coaching may help, but also prove insufficient, it all depends... Coaching is generally very useful when you anticipate rough times. Maybe you are facing tough decisions, a complex situation, high stakes, or all the above. Then, coaching can help you thrive in your job, instead of just surviving it.
It can be you are starting in a new role, restructuring a business or team, working through divergent or competing requirements or interests, crafting a strategy, changing direction in your career… generally coaching applies to any situation where you feel challenged in such ways, that outside help might come in handy.
Coaching means helping
Coaching is being at your service, that is you as individual, or group of people. The most generic description of what I do is: helping you to grow towards more freedom and broader awareness in your professional life.
Coaching is a people and relationships-oriented occupation like teaching, psychology, or police work, unlike construction or programming. What I look at, is how you (person or group), relate to others, to your own business life, challenges and constrains.
The object of coaching is not you, but the relationship itself, between you and your environment.
Freedom feels and sounds like a very desirable thing to enjoy. Yet sometimes, though we do have the freedom to do (or stop doing) something, we seem incapable of exerting that freedom. It feels rather like we are bound to repeat some specific patterns, triggering the question: How come I/we always do this?
These patterns are neither mistakes nor defects of our personality. They are behavioural habits that have been shaped under necessity. As such they were once very useful when we first adopted them. For example, dealing with an autocratic boss a few years back, we might have learned to repress our opinions and just do what we were told. But years later, having changed job, this behaviour is no longer useful, it might be even counterproductive, yet we keep on with it.
Coaching helps you restore agency. It means regaining your capacity to decide and apply your own responses, so not only being free, but acting freely.
Adjustments, not solutions
We often think that what prevents us from being successful at work is the problems we have. And to these problems, we seek solutions.
To solve a problem (Like: I do not express myself freely though I really want to), our western mentality directs us to understand its causes, and then use that analysis to adopt a solution. This is a very unfortunate state of affairs. Because when it comes to people's behaviour, understanding causes gets us nowhere near solving anything.
Humans are far too complex to be understood or analysed as systems of causality, like say, a diesel engine. If it were that simple, the problem of “I do not dare speak my mind” would be simply dealt with by “So speak up!”. And that would be it.
People are not dysfunctional mechanisms that need to be fixed, they are living and breathing organisms. Organisms do not have problems: they creatively adjust for survival in changing circumstances, and sometimes these adjustments are out of sync with the world.
To take another comparison, if you bleed following an accident, stitches are a good solution... But stitches only stop the bleeding. Whatever scars are left in your psyche after the accident will take a lot more than stitches to fix. You will have to deal not with what the accident did to you (mechanism with problems), but with how you responded to what the accident did to you (adjusting organism).
My work therefore is directed to supporting your awareness of how you are adjusting to the world, and realise how this adjustment could evolve for better results.
If a team has for years repressed their opinions, coaching is not about deciding whether they need to speak up. It is rather a question of looking together what ingenious system they designed to repress their opinions, help them realise how it constitutes an impediment to reaching team goals, and work together not just on expressing themselves, but also on how they can do this safely and in a way that suits them.
Because in the end, there are as many ways to speak up, as there are humans. I will not know which specific way suits you, you will. And the path to that is not solution-design, it is awareness.
Doing (almost) nothing…
So, I cannot understand you, I cannot understand the causes of your difficulties or challenges, I cannot pretend to know better what would be good for you in the future. But then, if I am not analysing you, not trying to understand your problems, and not helping you find solutions to these problems, what (the heck) am I actually doing?
Well, I am not per se doing something, I am only trying to meet you. I experience how you interact with me, and that lets me taste how you adjust to the world. If you repress your opinions, the chances are, you will do this with me too. And I will feel it.
As I feel it, I feed that subjective experience back to you. That in turns expands your awareness, and then the journey to craft a new response together can start. In the course of a coaching journey, I will do this experience of sampling your particular adjustment to world many many times over. And as we go, you will build a comprehensive set of new tools to deal with your work here and now.
Coaching is therefore a personal development journey aiming at supporting you in finding your answers in challenging situations, whilst developing your own skills and competences.
Well, it is. Actually, of all the jobs I have done since the beginning of my career, this is by far the most complex one. Coaching may seem simple from the outside… deceptively so. In my next post we explore together where the complexity is, and how I (and most other coaches) go about dealing with it.
Questions and comments welcome below :)
For now, take good care of yourselves.