Thursday, October 28, 2010

What’s Critical for a Successful Coaching Conversation?

I’ve wrestled with which one of the ICF Core Competencies is critical to coaching success. One could make a case for any of them … a testimonial to their power, by the way.

I quickly eliminated the actions competencies … duh! People do things with or without a coach. If you take umbrage at my dismissal, actions are the natural result of great coaching, not the point of it. Nicer way of putting it?

Over the 8 years I’ve been an ICF exam assessor, I’ve taken a long look at the actual techniques of coaching: Active Listening, Powerful Questioning, and the concepts of Direct Communication. Upon reflection and the lessons of experience, it’s inevitable to find that these 3 coaching techniques are also essential to many similar professions: therapy, counseling, religious work, mentoring, social work, teaching, and on and on through the long list. At the very least they are critical coaching skills. And … they are also a starting point in defining the essential elements of ‘partnership’ (the essential relationship of coach and client).

If you are familiar with the ICF Core Competencies then you will note some missing items already. So I will talk about the Coaching Agreement given I harp on it all the time when mentoring coaches anxious to pass their exams. The Agreement for a given coaching session is the structure and the only structure of that conversation. Its absence is an invitation to a modest version of chaos and uncertainty. However, before we all get comfortable here, one very important ingredient of the Agreement is clarity …”What do you mean by …?” And, it’s also not a good idea to ask what a client wants to achieve before there’s even something articulated as the content of the conversation. Think about it. I’ve been greeted in an exam with these very first words out of the coach’s mouth: “So, what outcome would you like to have today?” What do you suppose was my response? (Clue: “Uh, well, I don’t quite know yet.”… I answered so very nicely.)

Suffice to say that a clear Coaching Agreement is very important to effective coaching, and not one that the coach dictates … in case I forgot to mention my favorite admonition for all coaches: let your client do the heavy lifting.

Okay, here we are. What’s left?

The two most essential elements (Competencies) of any coaching conversation are Establishing Trust & Intimacy and Coaching Presence. We can’t have one without the other and we can’t have successful coaching without them both. My experience is that a failure to gain trust and at some point a trusting closeness (professional intimacy) dooms a conversation and doesn’t even allow true presence to show up. And yet, could I be talking about two more difficult elements to learn? There is no formula, no simple way, no magic about it … these two Competencies are asking you, the coach, to be authentic, confident, caring (empathetic), comfortable in your role, ruthlessly compassionate and a complete advocate for your client … all the time, every time.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Coaching As A Commodity -- Really?

The principal lesson I learned from a wonderful ICF-sponsored teleclass presented by Vicky Sullivan and Kay Cannon is that while I was comfortably engaged in the 7-year cocoon of the NASA project, the coaching profession had morphed into a commodity.

Yikes!  This is truly earthshaking information for me.

What is a commodity, you ask? Well, in business parlance it means something that has become accepted and understood. That can include anything that people and organizations have decided they need. I never imagined coaching would arrive at this stage so quickly.

You might argue with this. After all, not everyone knows the benefits of coaching. True enough. However, if you’ve read Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point it seems entirely possible that this is indeed how things are.

There comes a point in time when an idea takes hold with strength to endure. I’m not sure this is the case for all kinds of coaching but it appears to be the case with organization (executive, corporate, leadership) coaching.

And now the question I must ask myself: What do I need to do?

Clearly, I must respond carefully with my next moves in order to make a living. Could it be more obvious?

Having been in business now for 25 years I need to pull out the basics (that I taught for 15 years). When looking at what is next for me to do I must once again engage my entrepreneurial spirit, my years of experience … and fearlessly innovate!

I recently changed my vision statement from “Sustaining High Performance Over Time” to “Building People & Enterprise for Long Term Success.” I intend to design my expertise menu to include not only executive coaching but also to underscore management consulting and facilitation … (how I earned a living prior to the NASA project). I might even include two of my favorites: grad school teaching and public speaking …but those ideas are open for debate (with myself).

I expect these questions from curious minds: Isn’t that a rather heavy menu? Isn’t it too scattered? Don’t you want to focus more?

Yes, eventually I will focus. I shall narrow the field but I won’t leave anything out until I’ve looked at them all and entertained opportunities that show up. I can truthfully say that coaching will always be included, however.

More to come ….