The importance of community as we build and sustain our coaching practices.
Coaching can be a lonely business. We go through coaching training. We finish our classes. The assignments and collaboration start winding down and suddenly, we see ourselves struggling to push forward without much energy around.
When this happens, it is easy to lose momentum and focus. Our commitment can still be strong, but somehow, it becomes more and more difficult to keep going.
We can have the support of our family and friends, but naturally, it is hard for them to help us come up with the ideas and innovation needed to maintain our practices. Even though their support is crucial, they are not coaches, and therefore, they don’t have enough knowledge of the industry to help us with the specifics we need.
As an internal coach, this can be even harder. If we are not a part of a cohort, continuing with the developmental plans and promoting the coaching opportunities within the organization can become a mammoth endeavor. Co-workers are busy with their own projects. They don’t have the time and again, the expertise to support us in our initiatives.
That is why coaches need community. It is virtually impossible to build and sustain a healthy and robust practice without being connected with a group of other coaches. Regardless of how determined we are, it is a lot easier when we tap into the power of a group.
In community, we can inspire each other, cross-pollinate, build accountability, continue to be current in what is happening in the industry, and even benefit from a little peer pressure.
Here, the purpose is not to directly get clients. Connecting with other coaches, will not necessarily bring us business straight away. But we must look beyond the immediate reward. Being in community builds excitement. It brings us to imagine new possibilities, and the encouragement to try something, to take that extra step and most importantly, to persist.
And this can be just the secret ingredient we need to succeed.
In my own practice, everything changed when I became an active member of my local ICF chapter. And I want to emphasize the word “active”, which means, I was not simply attending sporadic programs, but I volunteered to be a member of committees and board positions. I never got a single client from these gigs, but seeing what other coaches were doing, noticing the growth and development of our profession (eventually even being a part of this development), made all the difference in my energy, approach, and presence.
Another major point was when I started taking some training opportunities that eventually brought me to a faculty position at Coach U and later to become an assessor for the ICF. To this day, this connection keeps me current in my skills and with what is happening in the industry. Other coaches know they can come to me to find out details and the latest in the coaching industry. As an assessor and faculty member, I learn from my peers every single day, and this gives me confidence, reputation, and the excitement to keep going.
And isn’t this the primary reason why it is so important to become a member of the ICF and to seek certification? When we show up to the marketplace as an ICF member, we are saying that we have more than 46,000 other coaches from all corners of the world, backing us up and making our practices more legitimate, reliable, and effective. This fact alone, makes me so proud of what we as a community accomplish every day, everywhere around the world.
Whether you are a brand-new coach or someone who has been around for a while, I would encourage you to reach out, join or build your circle of coaches, contribute to each other’s growth, create partnerships, and always be open to learn more from your peers.
When the client delivers those dreadful words.
One of the foundational principles of coaching is the confidence in the client’s own resourcefulness, competence, and ability to discover their own answers. In coaching, we come from the belief that the client is the authority in their own lives and situation. As coaches, we do not approach the coaching relationship as the subject matter expert. Instead, our expertise lies in our ability to establish a research-based conversational framework where the client can more deeply explore the issue at hand, broaden their perspective and in doing so, come to new insights that will further empower them to take their next step.
In other words, the client knows best. Our role as coaches is to engage with them in a partnership that will support them in this process of discovery, so they create their own forward movement.
So, if the client is the expert and the client has their own solutions, what happens when in a coaching session they simply say, “I don’t know?”
After working on thousands of coaching sessions with my own clients plus reviewing hundreds of recordings of my students and mentees, and assessing for the ICF, I have identified two possible reasons for this statement.
It Is Too Early
Coaching is a process of exploration. We coaches act as disruptors of the client’s way of thinking that provides them with the opportunity to break away and gain different perspectives. That is what is fascinating about this practice. Clients come to the coaching session with their own partial view of the situation and through our questions, observations, and silence, they are then able to widen their horizon and see for themselves what they could not see before.
However, we sometimes are so eager to bring the client to this new awareness that we end up asking questions they are not ready for. It is too early in the coaching conversation and we are already prompting the client to express ideas they have not been able to access yet.
In this case, “I don’t know”, should be a clear warning to the coach, that perhaps we have not explored the situation deep enough. There are perspectives that have not been explored. There are layers that have not been uncovered. And most likely, we are jumping into action way too early.
Here, the remedy is obvious. It is time for us to ground in our presence, deepen our listening and support the client in a more nuanced examination of the topic to empower them with more profound information that will enable them to know.
What are the words, expressions, and subtleties we overlooked? What is the true meaning behind what the client is saying or not saying? How can we become even more curious, let go of our assumptions, and allow ourselves to stay in this place of ‘not-knowing’ a little longer?
This state of curiosity and comfort with the discomfort can be just what the client needs from us, so they are able to answer those questions with clarity and truth.
But let’s say we did explore the situation quite enough. Insights are clearly available everywhere and still the client continues to shy away from embracing them. This reluctance may be a sign that the client is avoiding.
Coaching goes beyond transaction. What we are aiming for is an internal transformation that provides the client with a widened view, which can, in turn, propel them forward. We need to realize that at times, this can be intimidating.
As humans, we like what is familiar, even when it hurts. Sometimes we prefer to stay where it is uncomfortable rather than venture into the new. Taking a step into the unfamiliar is a very courageous act. It is amazing how ingenious we can be just so that we avoid seeing the obvious.
Client’s will resist. Perhaps refuse to commit. Their words will not match their actions. They even become very creative with their excuses.
In this case, it is imperative for the coach to listen even more closely. What does the client really need in this moment? Is it a compassionate attitude? Is it a challenge? Should we take a step back or must we poke the avoidance?
The answer on how to proceed will, of course, come from the client. Coaches are partners, not parents. We support, we mirror, we present, but ultimately the decision belongs to the client. The fact to consider here is that, in this case, the “I don’t know” is not a lack of information, but instead a lack of readiness from the client and other factors might be at play and in need of exploration.
And one more…
There is one more scenario we need to keep in mind. It may be that the “I don’t know” is in fact a lack of resources. There may be a piece of practical information missing in which neither the client nor the coach has access to during the session. In this case, the action is clear. Some simple research might just be the answer.
One of the most important points of being an effective coach is to stay current to what is happening in the coaching world and up-to-date with your skills. Don't miss the next article for ForCoaches. Subscribe below and be notified of my next article.
As a mentor coach, I am always giving feedback to my students and mentees helping them develop their coaching skills and prepare for their certification with the ICF. ForCoaches is a place where I can publicly share some of my insights and experiences. What does it mean to be a truly effective coach?