The importance and value of having a clarity of roles.
Perhaps one of the greatest challenges for a coach is to clearly arrive at a definition of what we do. What is coaching? What is not? What does it mean to be a coach? What distinguishes us from other professions? There are so many subtleties and nuances about our work; there are so many places where coaching intersects with other activities; and there is still so much confusion in the marketplace, that coming to a concise, clear, and readily understandable explanation of coaching is almost an impossible task.
To add to this challenge, there is yet another distinction that is very important for a coach to establish. What is coaching and how it differs from simply utilizing a coach approach?
At first, going this layer deeper may feel like adding to the confusion. Not only do we have to define coaching, but now there is a subtlety that needs to be addressed. However, I believe that exploring this difference may actually support us to better clarify what we truly do.
More than just a framework and a set of tools, the premise of coaching is the belief in the resourcefulness and potential of others. In coaching, we understand that the person in front of us may not necessarily have yet the answer to their dilemma, but they can figure it out. The brilliance of coaching is in giving others the chance to discover, the chance to do the work themselves, the chance to take full ownership of their situation and in the process expand on their points of view.
Coaching challenges us to step outside of our perspective (and self-righteousness) and instead, open the space for the other to do their own work. It is a courageous act that calls us to let go of our way of thinking and in its place send an invitation to the other to take the spotlight – a spotlight that already belongs to them.
However, as foundational as this mindset is to coaching, it can also be applicable in so many ways and so many different arenas. A parent can use this approach. A teacher, a consultant, a psychotherapist, a manager, a CEO, or even a friend simply having a friendly conversation can position themselves in this manner.
Instead of telling, one, regardless of their role, can simply choose to ask an exploratory question. Anyone, at any moment, in any interaction can decide to listen more deeply, be more curious, and give more space to the other. That does not mean they are coaching. What it means is that, consciously or not, they are utilizing certain tools and concepts that a professionally trained coach is expected to be an expert in.
This can be very informative when it comes time for us to discern how to relate with potential clients.
Following the current standards of our profession, coaching is a comprehensive process that combines specific skills and a mindset that offers the client a partnership and a space to reflect, explore, widen their perspective, and decide how to move forward.
When we engage in coaching with a client, ethically speaking, we are establishing that we will stay through the course of the whole engagement in the role of a coach. There is no need for changing hats or wavering in our approach. We commit to bringing the best of our coaching skills to support the client regardless of where they go in their journey.
In coaching, we have built a level of self-awareness and skill refinement that when a piece of advice or a solution pops into our heads, we know how to address it without feeling the need to step outside of our role. In coaching, we follow a professionally established conversational framework that has been researched and proven to be effective. This framework, accompanied by a command of certain language elements, creates the proper environment for client exploration and the surface of new awareness.
At the same time, there are many other situations outside of coaching where another approach may be more effective. Sometimes, it may be more productive to mentor, to manage, to inform, to guide, to direct, or many other ways. However, even in these situations, one can still choose to use the coach approach as described above without necessarily stating that they are coaching.
A leader can use the coach approach by inviting collaboration within their team. A teacher can ask a thought-provoking question. A consultant can entice the customer to think outside of the box. Are they coaches? Not really. They are leaders, teachers, and consultants utilizing a coach approach.
And for us coaches, when a prospective client comes our way, maybe even saying they are looking for coaching, but we realize that what they are truly asking for is something else. Right there, we must clarify, decide the proper role and if we have the skillset, perhaps offer our services utilizing the truthful label. In these instances, we can still use the coach approach, but we are not necessarily in the role of a coach.
I actually find this liberating. I see so many students, mentees, and even experienced coaches in such conflict and confusion because of what is happening within their practices. All of this could be lifted by simply understanding and clarifying this distinction, opening the opportunity for us to approach our clients and represent ourselves with integrity.
I also believe that this clarity would encourage us to deepen our understanding of what we are called for as coaches, the invitation to sharpen our skills, and in the end better ways to serve our clients.
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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?