Coaching as an art form.
It is the dilemma of every artist. On one hand we need to strive to master the tool. On the other, we need to remember and be fully connected to the humanity of what we do. This is the balancing act of every master and of every person who wants to be truly effective in their craft.
I call it Form & Flow – a dichotomy we cannot forget.
Technique is vital. No professional can be successful without it. Here, we must strive to understand, to polish, to have a deep grasp of the concepts and to be committed to ongoing practice and development. Artists without technique produce nothing. They don’t know their tools and therefore, they cannot deliver what they truly imagine.
At the same time, (and most importantly, perhaps,) technique alone creates empty and purposeless work. It is like a skeleton without flesh or a picture without its intended color. Regardless of what we do, to be effective, we must know how to be deeply connected to the heart of it all.
Coaching is no different.
Mastering the structure of the coaching conversation is paramount. This is an ongoing responsibility of every serious coach. The ICF Core Competencies are, in a way, simple, but also endlessly rich. We have layers upon layers of detailed work that needs to be done in order for someone to master them – and it takes years. That is why coaching training, mentoring and the actual practice of coaching are so important. It is through training that we learn best practices and gain a deeper understanding of a model that has been proven to be effective.
It is also important for us to remember that our profession is young and therefore, constantly developing. Every day, there are new perspectives and new ways to look at this framework. It is imperative for us to stay up-to-date and to continue to practice how we demonstrate and deliver these concepts at the time of coaching.
Having said that, we can’t be like that piano player whose fingers fly like magic, whose knowledge is unparalleled, but whose music is stale and heartless.
Regardless of what kind of coaching we do, we must always remember that at the core, coaching is a human to human interaction. Whether we are coaching the CEO of a company or the mom next door, our clients are human-beings and no matter their situation, at the heart, they are looking for connection. It is our job to create the space and clear the way for this to happen. And we can only do this, when we are connected ourselves.
Form gives us the tool. It informs us. It gives the structure, the technique. Form is our ability to demonstrate expertise and to establish a process that is productive, well-defined and repeatable.
Flow gives us the WHO, the essence, the humanity behind it all. It is here that music happens, and transformation occurs. The effective coach knows how to balance these two forces like a true artist who uses their tools skillfully but with clear understanding of their ultimate purpose.
No artist can be a master without form. No coach can be efficient without good training and detailed practice. At the same time, no artist can make music without heart and no coach can be a catalyst for growth without the ability to freely connect to the core of themselves and of their clients.
The Three Threes of Coaching
In coaching, we will often find many ideas grouped in lists of three (3). These are essential concepts a successful coach must keep in mind. They are simple reminders of important points that will help us build and maintain our practice and also support us during our coaching conversation with our clients.
List 1 | To Be a Coach
In the updated model of the ICF Core Competencies, we are introduced to the new competency “Embodies a Coaching Mindset”, where the ICF stresses much broader approach to coaching. This is foundational! Coaching is not simply something that we do. Coaching is who we are. It is a way of being. Therefore, to be effective, a coach must think holistically and always pay particular attention to three main areas of development.
One may have the cleverest marketing strategy, the most up-to-date website and social media presence. If right in the moment of coaching, the coach is not able to deliver, it is all for naught. Everything we do is for that time when we are in front of our clients and we are able to proficiently support them. Skills are paramount. And we know that coaching is ever evolving. We are never done. Our technique must be constantly polished and refined, seeking to be current, to understand trends and follow the development of our profession.
At the same time, we can be the most amazing coach but if nobody knows about it, we will never be able to do much. Concurrent with our efforts to be a great coach, we must also spread our wings, have the courage to show up and let others know about our skillset. And also, business development goes way beyond marketing… To have a sustainable practice, there are those ‘not-so-exciting’ systems we need to put in place to support the growth of our practice. Calendars, agreements, forms, reminders, welcome letters, computer software, accounting, contacts, business cards – the list goes on. There is much that needs to be done for us to get to that moment of coaching.
Coaching is a human to human interaction. We can have amazing coaching skills and have full command of the Core Competencies. We can have a great business set up and impeccable marketing. But how are we internally? How are we showing up for our clients? How well are we able to treat ourselves and each other? Most importantly, how aware are we of our own biases, triggers, and shortcomings? This is not just about self-care. This is about developing our level of self-awareness and building a strong internal foundation that enable us to be fully present to our clients. As I always say to my mentees, we don’t need to be perfect, but we need to be and grow in our awareness.
List 2 | To Build Your Coaching Skills
If we focus particularly on coaching skills, to be a truly effective coach, we must always work on three main areas.
Coaching is not just something we decide to do one day and the next day we are using the title. Coaching is not about how much expertise one has in an industry or subject matter and decides to train or mentor others in it. The profession has specific ethical standards and competencies that must be mastered. There is work to be done. And the truly serious coach knows the importance of going through a training program that is reputable, accredited and current so they can be an expert in the coaching methodology that has been researched, analyzed and practiced by thousands of coaches worldwide for more than three decades. Because coaching is a self-regulated profession, it is imperative that we follow standards and learn not only the foundational tenets of our craft but remain current with the latest development in the industry.
In addition to coaching training, we must put into practice the concepts learned in coaching school into practice. Because coaching is a human to human interaction, we will only be able to understand the nuances of the process when we are actually engaged with our clients. It is in practice that it all comes together. It is in a coaching session that we see the fundamentals of the process coming alive and we are then able to embody our learning. As the saying tell us: “How do I get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.”
Yet, training and practice is not enough. In order for us to really master our learning, it is imperative that we also engage in a coaching relationship with a more experienced coach. I believe that a solid mentor coaching process will not only give us the opportunity to be observed and challenged to new awareness of the coaching process but also support us in being the well-rounded coach in the areas I mentioned in list 1. Mentor coaching is much more than skills development and Core Competencies. It must have a holistic approach that embodies the broad aspect of being a coach. I do not know a single successful coach who does not have a mentor coach.
List 3 | To Practice Your Coaching Skills
To polish and develop your coaching skills, it is not only important to be in coaching mode. There are three roles you need to often put yourself in so you can truly understand the coaching process.
As I mentioned above, if you want to learn how to be an effective coach, you must practice being a coach. Coaching is not just concepts, models and techniques, but it is the actual moment of the coaching interaction. And we will only be able to fully understand the practice when we do it and engage with a real client.
At the same time, it is important that we always put ourselves in the role of the client. There is so much we can learn by being coached. We become better coaches when we have others coaching us. In this role, we will be able to feel how our clients feel and see coaching from the client’s perspective. In this role, we will notice how the competencies work from the client’s side. As we put ourselves in our client’s shoes, we gain a depth of understanding that we would ever get by only being in the role of a coach. That is yet another reason why having a mentor coach with a holistic approach is so important.
This is a role often dismissed and forgotten but with a potential for being tremendously insightful. I stress this especially when leading a practicum class when students are more often in this role than coaching or being a client. There is so much we can learn by observing others coach. In this role, we can have a bird’s eye view of the session and notice certain nuances we would not be able to pick up by being in the session itself. The way the coach responds to the client. What the client is saying and not saying. Being an observer alone can sometimes dramatically change the way we coach. Take every opportunity to see a coaching demo.
As we build and maintain our coaching practices, it is important to remember that we humans are creatures of habit. It is interesting how often we get into a comfort zone and begin to focus more on one aspect of coaching than others. Coaching is organic and alive. It is always asking us to stretch and grow. These three lists of three are foundational. They are a good reminder of points we may sometimes forget and must always pay attention to.
On the issue of taking notes during a coaching session...
This is a question that often surfaces in coaching training. Is it ok for the coach to write while conducting a coaching session? What are the pros and cons of taking notes in coaching?
When it comes to coaching, I usually try to stay away from “black and white” answers.
Coaching is a human to human interaction, and as so, full of gray areas.
Writing while coaching is possibly one of them.
What I believe is important is to be aware and purposeful about the decisions we make when we are in front of our clients. Every time I see a coach or a student in one of my practicums or a mentee in a recorded session taking notes, I always wonder about the true motivations behind that action.
What is prompting the coach to write this piece of information? What is the decision process happening behind the scenes? Is this just a habit, a crutch? How much has the coach thought about this choice?
When I ask the student what made them take that step, the answer is usually around the idea of not forgetting that piece of information. “If I don’t write it down, I will forget.” “I must remember these facts.” “It helps ME to organize MY thoughts.”
As you can see, all these statements are coach centered. We are writing for us. We are taking notes out of our fear that we might forget. We are writing out of a personal preference. In doing so, our focus is on us. Perhaps with good intentions, but bottom line, we write to fulfill our own needs, not the client’s.
Other reasons I hear are: “I write so I can bring back these points at a later time.” “I write so I can show my clients that I remember.” (Somehow this statement seems contradictory to me.) “I write so I show efficiency.”
Here comes the issue of the value of coaching. Remember that coaching is not solution based, but discovery based. Our value is not on the archiving of details, but on how we create the structure of the coaching conversation that provides the client the space for exploration. More important than remembering the exact words, our focus needs to be broader and deeper, trusting that when we are anchored to the essence, the pieces will come together.
While we do want to remember certain points and relevant facts, most importantly is that we are present to the moment and to the core of what our client is experiencing.
Regardless of skills or tricks we have created, or whether we are coaching in person, on Zoom or even over the phone, the fact is that when we look down and we start taking notes, at some level, we break the connection with our client. And that connection, in itself, is more valuable than any piece of information.
The funny part is that once you establish this level of coaching presence, remembering details is the easy part.
I am always amazed at how much information surfaces right at the time when it is most relevant. That is because I am present. That is because I am connected with my client.
You can see that my strong recommendation to all my students and mentees is to put the pen down. Look at your client and truly, intentionally be present. That alone can be the transformative action that will make a tremendous difference in your client’s life.
If you have the habit of taking notes while you coach, I suggest you pay very close attention to the true reason for this. Your client needs you more than your memory. Details can be remembered and refreshed. Words can be substituted by meaning and experiences. More important is that you stay with your client at every second and establish a true connection at every moment.
Having said that…
When I am coaching, I always keep pen and paper close by. In all my years of experience as a coach, there have been a few times when it seemed important to jot a few things down. When this happens, the decision to write is conscious and they are always preceded by some sort of statement that makes the client aware I will be taking that step. This shows my clients that we are doing this together and that we are partnering even in the act of taking notes.
One more point…
Remember that in coaching, the client is the one in the driver seat. Often times, if there is something that really needs to be recorded, I am of the mindset that perhaps it is the client’s job to do so. This may be one of the few moments that making a request is in order.
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?