Know Thyself

One of the biggest obstacles in the coaching profession is helping people understand what it is, and equally important, what it isn’t. While my coaching style is certainly informed by psychology, shrink I am not. (Though I have informally channeled Dear Abby for friends for years.)

In a nutshell, coaching fosters the ultimate human potential tool: self-awareness.

With a nod to International Coaching Week currently being celebrated around the globe, coupled with the 20th anniversary of the International Coach Federation (ICF), I thought I’d offer a taste of coaching in this week’s blog post. Let’s take a walk, shall we?

Coaching is a discovery-based process offering clients the lead role in finding their own creative solutions. Working with a coach is a unique opportunity to unpack your thinking around a challenge, clarify the obstacles and choices, and discover new possibilities for action. The coach acts as both midwife and vision keeper, always holding the client accountable to self-directed solutions.

The most typical outcome of a coaching conversation is insight – that incredible burst in your brain of Aha! It is the moment when your brain segues from confusion and frustration to seeing a way forward, and is fertile ground for creating actionable goals.

Being a relatively new kid on the block (coming of age in the early ‘90s), there is confusion as to how coaching differs from other modalities in the support profession. Coaching is distinctly different from counseling/psychotherapy, consulting, mentoring, and training. To clear up the confusion, let’s take a closer look at these modalities and imagine for the moment that I’m wearing each of the different hats.

As a COUNSELOR, I would guide you on a long, detailed look back over your life. We would spend time analyzing people and events from your past with the intention of healing old wounds and current dysfunction. There would be extensive analysis of feelings, both past and present. We would be digging deep with the ultimate goal of restoring wholeness and moving you forward in your life.

As a CONSULTANT, I would look to reform and improve your processes. I have the answers and you are paying me to tell you what to do. For example, I would identify the broken places in your workflow and instruct you, specifically, on how and where to make the necessary changes. I would be seen as the expert and, as such, my recommendations would be implemented.

As a MENTOR, I would take you under my wing. I would be modeling for you, much as a parent does for a child, showing you how the world works. I would share my personal experience and teach you the ropes. I would impart my extensive knowledge and expertise in a particular line of work or craft and you would strive to emulate me.

As a TRAINER, I would teach you a particular curriculum with specific learning objectives and key messages. I possess knowledge you don’t, and I am here to train you in a new product, service or process that will enhance your skills and add to your fund of knowledge.

As a COACH, I am an awareness raiser, thinking partner and catalyst for change. As the coaching client, you are considered to be creative, resourceful and whole. You contain all your own answers and are the expert in your life. I hold the space for you to discover those answers, primarily by active and intuitive listening and by asking powerful questions – questions that are expansive and open-ended, inviting introspection and action.

You can entrust an ICF-trained coach to:

  • Discover, clarify and align with what the client wants to achieve
  • Encourage client self-discovery
  • Elicit client-generated solutions and strategies
  • Hold the client responsible and accountable

Coaching conversations dwell in thinking, vision and planning and steer clear of details, problems and drama. The coach is an objective awareness raiser who inspires you to shift your perspective, championing new behaviors and actions. Together the coach and client create a strong, solutions-focused alliance.

The father of coaching and founder of the ICF, the late Thomas Leonard, wrote a book in 1998 called The Portable Coach; 28 Surefire Strategies for Business and Personal Success. While working with a coach or some other accountability partner is ideal, motivated self-starters can make true progress with self-study. Leonard is masterful and comprehensive in this oldie but goodie.

“The unexamined life is not worth living,” according to Socrates. With such deep resonance and staying power, I invite you to stroll down Introspection Lane and meet the guru who is you…with or without a coach as travel guide.

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