Monday, August 16, 2010

Partnering: The Coach’s Road to Mastery

This blog was written for coaches who struggle with being helpful, often too helpful, thus denying themselves and their clients the full range of possibilities that coaching from partnership can provide.

Christine’s Fearless Definitions:

Helping – Lending a hand as if stronger, more knowledgeable, or in a position of strength.
Empowering – Creating a context where another assumes power on his/her own in a situation or idea.

In working with dozens of coaches at all stages of development from new student to master with my role being either a mentor coach or examiner for credentials, it has become quite evident that we who are of the “helping professions” have a more powerful role to play in the lives of our clients than simply helping them will allow.

There are two distinctions, unique to coaching in how they are used, that may help clarify for us what coaching is truly all about and why it is different from all other “helping” professions.

1. Partnering. This essential piece of the relationship between client and coach is the heart and soul of coaching as practiced in its purest form. Partners are equals, peers, co-creators. There is no hierarchy in partnering. Neither does partnering relegate the coach to observer, commentator or passive listener. While the coach doesn’t act as the knowing expert, the coach partner does participate in developing actions and ideas with the client not for the client. They work together in service of the client’s agenda.

2. Respecting. We coaches care deeply for our clients…at least that’s an assumption on my part. My experience has been that caring is a double-edged sword. And so I ask myself this question routinely: Do I care enough for my client that I will not permit myself to tell, direct, or judge their ideas, actions or results? ‘Caring’ as used in the coaching relationship is best described in terms of “respecting” as a profound expression of caring. My question then becomes: Do I respect my client enough …?

My observations about helping others extend to those among us who enter the professional of coaching in order to help people. Going along with this concept of helping others is the idea that being a nice person is also a requirement for being a coach. Who wouldn’t want to be and be known as a nice person? Who wouldn’t want a nice person as a coach? Who wouldn’t want to help others?

If I am a truly nice, caring and wish to be helpful to others, is that not sufficient to one day be a master coach? All I need to do is learn the techniques of coaching and the rest is experience. Clearly from my own observational experience, this is a not uncommon mindset of people who call themselves coaches, credentialed or not.

What do ‘nice,’ ‘caring’ and ‘helpful’ have in common? Referring back to my fearless definitions, they have in common the relationship between the coach and client. Taken together, these very wonderful human traits and behaviors can support or preclude partnership. When partnership is not possible, it may be due to the hierarchical relationship inherent in helpful/helping, being nice above all things, and taking caring to a fault.

In a coaching conversation, when I extend my hand to help my client by directing, solving, requiring or offering my ideas in lieu of theirs, I have either precluded or disturbed the partnership that defines the finest expression of coaching.

The road to mastery requires a coach to become a partner with each client. The genesis of partnership is curiosity, the activity is exploration, the being state is ‘not knowing,’ and so the result is empowerment of the client. A client who then becomes aware of what is so, becomes able to design and deliver actions that resolve, develop, turn around, handle, change and transform the reality or the story.

To conclude, the inherent ideal for effective masterful coaching is to respect the client as a partner and owner of the agenda. Being nice, generous, soulful, mindful … yes, and caring then all become the innate behaviors of the relationship that is built on respect and an appreciation for each other as individuals.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Before You Leap Across the Gap

This week I was given an opportunity to talk about the MCC exam with current PCC's who are aspiring to that credential.  I've been talking about the "gap" between the two credentials, the challenges of moving from the model of a training program, and the indescribable nature of what the MCC exam expects from you.

I find I know a lot about the MCC exam.  I hope I do since I assess them routinely.  That's helpful.  The logistics and what to expect are a key part of being able to "perform" during the exam.  Another even more critical factor is to have practiced the exam many times.  When I taught grad school I was always frank with my students about the format of an exam, how it will be graded, the time frame and recommended preparation work.  I do no less when describing the ICF credentialing process.  It all counts.

Why?  Well, it's never wise to take things for granted.  For instance, sending in just any ol' recording of a session is a possible road to failure.  The recording is evaluated just the same as the live oral and needs to be a coach's best work.  That requires recording session after session after session with a variety of clients, listening  to each, selecting the best and then having a qualified mentor listen as well (usually for a fee if a letter is to be written).  Ultimately the coach candidate will make the final choice and own it.

So what is the challenge for me here, really?  For me it's making sure I'm somewhat comfortable that what I am saying is valuable and just going for it.  There's another opportunity to continue the conversation next week.  My approach to the next session must be some middle ground between what I know I know and that I don't know everything.  I'll operate once again from the caveat that I am lecturing about the exam which only leads to a listening coach knowing about the exam.  The ultimate leap is next to be taken ... or as one can say: it's time to get on the court and get in the game. 

So before you leap, permit me to ask: How narrow is the gap for you?  Is it a huge leap?  Is it a comfortable leap?  Are you confident you can make it?  Have you practiced enough?  Do you have a safety net if you don't make it the first time?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Being Present: Defining What Cannot Be Defined

Welcome to my thoughts, my inquiry.
While Coaching Presence is a core competency of ICF professional coaching, I’m not writing this to only coaches. My intention then is to talk about the idea of “being present” as being a critical skill for effective work with people … period.

I work everyday with this coaching core competency. It’s fascinating, ephemeral and indefinable … yet one knows when it’s, well, ‘present’ (or as we coaches might say), in the space, or not missing. It’s a curious phenomenon, at least to the extent that I might say something like “the coach was at an early level of presence but a long way from mastery.” For me that kind of evaluation is intuitive but not easily explained. What’s interesting is that two coaches can agree, most often easily, that our perceptions are the same.

This is one competency I never let get away. It’s too important. As I have many items on my plate (that are over-the-top challenging), being present with each client, each time and completely, becomes an essential skill to renew all over again … and again … and again.

First a couple of definitions (my own):
  • Present: being with one or others or in the specified or understood place. (It seems to me this is a behavior or action)
  • Presence: the ability to project a sense of ease, poise or self-assurance. (It seems to me this is a quality of a person, as in a distinction)

 In thinking about this blog I began to pay attention to people interacting with one another because I gave priority to that level of noticing.

Here are two actual observations that I experienced as similar but not the same at all … see what you think.

(1) I watched as a politician was being greeted as a visiting dignitary … children presenting flowers, people in native dress smiling and waving, dignitaries greeting one another. I also noticed how the politician responded to these people. I was struck by the insincerity … the inauthenticity of it all … the performance, as it were. As a remote observer I did not experience any joy or pleasure in this scene … actually, I felt somewhat embarrassed. What’s key here is that I had a feeling about it at all … as if I had an investment in this person’s behavior.

(2) On another occasion I watched as a politician was being greeted as a visiting dignitary … the same scenario. However, on this occasion, the politician was clearly authentic … greeting people with great pleasure, paying attention to each, receiving gifts and flowers with pleasure and a feeling that transcended mere duty. There was something authentic and appreciative in this scenario. As an observer I experienced pleasure and even delight at watching a very powerful person being present in the setting at a level that was clearly a gift to those around. Once again, it seemed I had an investment in this activity.

What then is “being present?” What about it is so important that it would be a core competency of an entire profession?

That brings us first to …

Christine’s First Fearless Law of Communication:
  • Being personally present is central and essential to having an authentic relationship with another person, no matter what.
Being a fan of Murphy and a teacher of logic in my university days, you might expect that I would expand on what I just asserted as basic.

I have.

There are four corollaries to my First Fearless Law...
  • Corollary One: PARTNERSHIP. Being present to another person engenders and creates partnership, a core aspect of the relationship of coach and client.
  • Corollary Two: CURIOSITY. It helps to be curious about something.
  • Corollary Three: EXPLORATION. Partners can embark on marvelous journeys of exploration.
  • Corollary Four: DISCOVERY. Discovery is the inevitable and remarkable result of exploration.
To be continued ...sometime later.  What do you think, so far?