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.
At the core, coaching is a conversation – not a display of tools.
Years ago, I facilitated a panel of discussions for a local ICF chapter focused on the coaching Core Competencies. This was a very well-attended, pre-pandemic, in-person event with dozens of people, all gathered in one of those sterile hotel conference rooms. The panel was composed of a select number of very experienced Professional Certified Coaches (PCC) and Master Certified Coaches (MCC), all eager to impart their experience and knowledge to the attendees.
The program went very well and throughout the event, we had a very robust discussion addressing several predetermined questions, which, quite sincerely, I don’t have any recollection of. However, I do remember clearly when, towards the end, during the Q&A section, one member of the audience picked up the microphone and asked the panel:
There are so many competencies. (There were 11 at the time.)
Which one is the most important?
At first, one might think this to be a tricky question. But when I brought it back to the panel, one of the MCC coaches, without hesitation, raised his hand and volunteered to address the question. Very calmly and eloquently, he said:
All competencies are important, but if I had to choose one, I would pick “Maintains Presence” because if we are not truly present in a coaching conversation, we cannot demonstrate anything else well.
That statement made such an impact on me because it speaks of a foundational aspect of coaching.
At the core, every coaching session is truly a conversation. Our primary job as a coach is to relate, to create the space, and to be fully present to our coachee. All that we do in coaching training is to become acquainted, skillful and to commit to an ongoing sharpening of tools that have been proven to make that conversational moment even more effective.
As coaches, we do not necessarily need to be experts in the subject matter the coachee brings to the conversation. The value we bring is not on answers and solutions for their situation. Instead, our expertise lies in providing a specific structure for the conversation that enables them to explore and expand their view of their situation with intentionality, clarity, and direction.
While it is so inspiring to see the passion that exists in our community around developing and maintaining our coaching skills, there is the danger of focusing so much on the tools and forgetting the true reason why they were created. Whether we are new to coaching or experienced professionals, it is important to constantly remind us that the most important element of the coaching relationship is our coachee – not the tools.
The analogy I often give in coaching training and with my mentees is of the operating room. I am not a surgeon and thankfully have not even been in an operation room, but I have seen enough medical dramas to create this metaphor.
When a surgeon is operating on someone, there is usually a tray of tools right next to her and she can call the nurse to hand over the instrument necessary for each moment or task. The surgeon’s attention is closely connected to the patient. The tools come and go as required. Without the tools, the surgeon cannot do her job properly. However, if the surgeon only focuses on the tools, on how to utilize the tools, and the details of the tools, the surgery will not be performed well, perhaps to fatal results.
Not quite life-threatening, coaching is very similar. In coaching training, we acquire the crucial skills to best conduct a coaching conversation. But the skills are instruments, not the main goal. The most important is to be present, to make a connection, and to converse. The skills of coaching are there at the service of our coachees. Not the other way around.
But how do we achieve this balance? It is the same question: How do we get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice…
Like learning how to drive a stick shift car, where at first, we may become overwhelmed by the pedals, the gear, the rearview mirror, the signs on the road, the speed limit, the pedestrians, cars, and curves, in coaching, we may initially get over preoccupied with finding the right question, establishing the session agreement, bring the client into action, “doing it right”, etc. However, as we continue to practice, soon we will be fast driving on a highway, listening to music, talking with a friend, enjoying the ride, and not even aware of what our bodies are doing to make the car function.
That is the goal of coaching and coaching training – to have our coaching skills so well-sharpened and accessible that we have the freedom to be fully present, enjoy the ride, and simply talk with our clients.
Keeping in mind the long-term aspect of coaching...
One of the setbacks of most coaching training programs is usually the strong focus on what happens in a single coaching session – that one-time conversation we have with the coachee that is supposed to have a beginning, middle, and end. Since in training our effort is on mastering the standard skills of our profession, the ICF Core Competencies, much emphasis is put on this single snapshot of the coaching process. How well are we able to support the coachee in identifying a direction and outcome for the conversation, to thoroughly investigate the situation, to notice the insights, and to design their way forward? Based on these standards, that is what defines a great coach.
However, we must remember that coaching is not an event. Coaching is a process – usually a long-term, perhaps a life-long process. Coaching is not focused on simply coming up with a quick in-the-moment solution, but on supporting the coachee to notice opportunities for sustainable growth within themselves and to intentionally continue in their process of developing greater self-awareness and depth of authenticity.
It is imperative for a masterful coach to always keep in mind these foundational aspects of our practice so we can best support our coachees in the long run.
With such emphasis on this single moment of coaching, I often see students and new coaches, in their eagerness to generate value for their clients, falling into the trap of trying to tie up all loose ends and perfectly bring the coachee to answer all questions right within one session. That is why it is so important to clearly understand what it means to establish a great session agreement so that both the coach and coachee don’t feel this pressure. If we understand the aspect of a long-term process and stay firm to its proposition, we will clearly see that the moment discussed today is just an element of the whole evolution of the coachee. Today is just one step in the whole journey.
Today is just one step in the whole journey.
My mentees know well the analogy I like to use when explaining this concept. Coaching is like a long road trip, driving from Miami to New York. (Sorry for the US-centered names. You can substitute these cities for others in your continent – Perth to Sydney, Lisbon to Athens, Johannesburg to Cape Town, Buenos Aires to São Paulo, etc.) A trip like this will probably never be done in one stretch. Even though the destination is New York, on the first day we may only reach Orlando. The next day, maybe Savannah, then Rahley, and little by little we will get to our destination.
In coaching, there is a long-term agreement as well as each session agreement. Our job as professionally trained coaches is to support the coachee in generating their trip plan. What is the direction we are going to take? How much can we accomplish today? What is reasonable to expect? What is the pace we want to take? And I would like to add that even with the most well-crafted agreement, it may be that during the session, we both realize that it is better to stop earlier or perhaps stretch further ahead. This is all decided within the partnership established between the coach and coachee.
The bottom line is to keep a bird’s eye view of the journey, allowing for a natural development of the process.
We also need to remember that human development rarely takes a straight-line approach. We may think that in the journey to reach New York, the coachee will take the predictable path, only to be surprised to see them all the way in Kansas. And that is okay. Perhaps there is something in Kansas they need to pick up and bring to New York. Let’s keep checking with the coachee as to what they truly need to successfully arrive at their destination.
I will have to repeat yet again one of my favorite phrases I created about coaching. “Coaching is not solution-based. Coaching is developmental based.” Coaching is not about fixing a situation today. Coaching is exploration, investigation, learning, building self-awareness, and understanding. And this takes time. It takes courage, patience, and the willingness to do the work.
The reward for the coachee is to see themselves every day, more realized, more in integrity, more in agreement with who they truly are. And that is the measure of a successful journey.
How context influences our language
Language is a powerful tool in coaching – and perhaps one of the most challenging to master. It is through our communication and choice of words that we can create the conversational framework necessary for a smooth and fruitful process. Language is where everything comes together. Our ability to listen, generate clear and succinct statements, construct a simple question, or simply share an acknowledgment with the coachee, all comes down to how well we can craft our language.
It is through language that we build trust. It is through language that we connect. It is through language that we can open doors, widen horizons, challenge the coachee, and support them into action. It is through language that we build partnerships. And while there are some best practices a coach needs to master, one of the hardest concepts to understand is how it all depends on context.
Coachees come from different environments, backgrounds, and perspectives. They all have different ways of thinking, levels of resilience, and acceptance. And therefore, what works for one person, will not necessarily work for another. What is an absolute “no” to one, will perhaps be an absolute “yes” to another.
Take for example the concept of open-ended questions. Of course, we all know the power behind a question that gives the coachee complete freedom to go deeper and invites them into a wider exploration of their situation. A coach must have complete ease in their ability to ask open-ended questions. However, as important as this skill is to a coach, there are moments in coaching where a close-ended question is the most powerful question to ask.
Sometimes we rebuff “why” questions and talk about it almost to the point of demonizing it. But in fact, it may come a time when a simple “why” is all the coachee needs in the moment.
Presently, especially here in North America, we are experiencing a moment when we are becoming more aware of how certain terms and language usage can negatively affect people. This is a breakthrough in so many areas of acceptance, inclusion, and respect for one another. It is a welcome awakening to our cultural and collective consciousness.
Words have power...
Words have power and it is important that we are mindful of what we say and to whom we say it. However, in coaching, we need to be cautious of drawing hard lines around particular actions or terms we use, forgetting that context may change everything.
Take, for example, the word “need”. This is a word that can put the client into survival mode, almost pushing them into a corner and adding stress, rather than a wider sense of possibility. Yes, to this awareness. And, yes also to the idea that perhaps, at times, using the word “need” can be a powerful way to bring the coachee a sense of ownership and determination.
That’s why in coaching we must be careful with black-and-white thinking, where dogmas start to cripple us of our authentic and spontaneous presence. In coaching, it all depends.
This level of flexibility in our language and attitudes towards our coachees is no excuse for sloppy technique. Intentionality is paramount. A Masterful Coach wants to have their tools always sharpened and ready. But I am weary of the practice of over-identifying specifics and singling out certain outcast words that cannot be used. It seems a bit too dogmatic and fundamentalist to me.
Coaching is about the human experience which can be messy, unpredictable, and often surprising. I doubt one rule will always be right. More than behavior 1, 2, or 3, the evidence of mastery is in the preparedness, the intentionality, and the mindset we bring when we dare to stand in front of our coachees. That is the art we strive for including in our use of language.
Letting go of the need to know...
We have all been very well trained in the importance of being independent and having our own opinions and perspectives. From the early years of our education and throughout our professional careers, we have been encouraged and rewarded to find answers and to arrive at our solutions. Very often, our own identity depends on the level of expertise and experience we have acquired through the years.
We pride ourselves on our ability to figure things out.
While this skill is imperative for us to be able to navigate through the complexities of our present world, it can also be counterproductive in so many ways, especially in the process of coaching.
Coaching is an opportunity for our coachees to widen their perspectives, learn more about themselves and their situation, and take the opportunity to develop and move forward. Coaching is a time for innovation, for new ideas to come to the surface, and to arrive at outcomes not yet imagined.
If the focus of the coach is to solve the problem and impart knowledge, there is very little room left for the coachee to do the work. In our drive to find a solution thinking this is what will bring value to the coaching process, we miss noticing that instead, we are crowding the space with our perspectives, inadvertently preventing the coachee to generate their own learning and grow from it.
That is why the value of coaching is not in finding the answer, but instead in bringing an expert framework for the conversation that supports the coachee to explore, to seek for themselves, and to come to an insight.
The moment we find an answer,
the conversation is over.
The moment we find an answer, the conversation is over. There is no longer the need to explore further. Development is thwarted and awareness becomes secondary.
This is the antithesis of what coaching is. Coaching is development. Coaching is experimentation. Coaching is curiosity. Coaching is excitement for what is not yet known. Coaching is about possibilities. Coaching is paying attention. Coaching is potential. Coaching is movement. Coaching is life.
Solving the problem is easy. Having the courage to imagine, to stretch beyond and to be open to the new - that is the challenge.
As coaches, we need to learn how to be comfortable with not-knowing. We need to put aside our egos and our need to prove ourselves. Trusting the process. Trusting ourselves. Trusting our coachees, giving them the chance to take full ownership of their own lives, their situation, and their growth. That is the power of coaching.
What to do when a client has a lot to say...
You know exactly what I am talking about. You connect with a client. You both exchange a short greeting. You then ask the client what would be important to work on during the session and… the client responds by giving you a long discourse with a detailed description of the situation – every part of it, every emotion, every character, every step. This long statement goes on for minutes, making you even feel overwhelmed with the amount of data thrown at you, without any pause or space for a response. Finally, you find a little break where you can say something, but right after your statement, again the client goes on with yet another long monologue.
What to do in this scenario? How can we support a client who barely gives us any space to say anything?
As coaches, our value is on our ability to support the client on how to maximize their discovery moment. This becomes a challenge if we barely have any time to respond.
In the case of a verbose client, as a ground rule, I take the approach that if a client needs to talk, let them do it. This is their way of processing what is going on and as a coach, I just need to respect it. At the same time, I also believe it is very important for me to pay close attention to the nuances of what is happening so I can best support them along the way.
One thing we need to remember is that there can be several things contributing to the client’s verbose stance.
Maybe the client is overwhelmed, and this is the only place they have to download and verbally process what is going on. Maybe the client is not fully aware or knows how to handle their emotions and their way to deal with them is by talking. Maybe the client is uncomfortable with the process itself. Or maybe the client is so focused and determined that they just need the space to verbally organize what they have saved internally for a while.
Another important aspect of this issue is to realize the distinction between the different kinds of verbose clients. Not every verbose client is the same and each deserves a different approach.
Here I list two different verbose clients to consider:
Lost on Tracks
This is the coachee that can speak for hours without any difficulty in finding what to say. They talk but, in truth, they don’t always make sense. The information is chaotic and sometimes confusing. They jump from point to point, even losing track of their own thought process. They talk in circles and there is no true development or substantial insight happening.
Since our job as coaches is to provide this space for growth and development, I believe this situation may call for some interruptions. This is when we gently and respectfully jump in with a laser-focused and precise statement or question that will anchor and somehow help them organize what they are saying.
It is very important to remember that interruptions are tricky, and if we choose to do so, they must be intentional, and strategic, with a clear purpose to ground the coachee and move them forward. If we do this, it must be in a way that does not break the trust and safety and does not bring the spotlight to us. This is not an excuse for us to take charge. The client must remain at center stage. We are just the prompter giving them just a nudge to move to the next level.
To do this, we can use humor. We can start by immediately acknowledging that we know we are interrupting. We can wait for that quick catch of breath or a tonal break. Bottom line, this is intentional and with the client, not the context, front of mind.
The other kind of verbose client is the one who is on a roll. They make long statements, but you see that they are moving forward, generating their insights along the way. You can sense their thought process and how they are absolutely in control of the flow of information coming out.
In this case, it is paramount that we do not even flicker. Let the client do what they must do. Let the client continue their work. Our job at this moment is to just be a witness and to hold the space for them, giving them full permission to develop, explore, and find their way through it.
In the end, let’s continue to remember that coaching is client-centered. The coachee is the one in the driver's seat, always taking the lead and doing the actual exploration of their situation. We are partners in the supporting role, bringing our expertise in the coaching conversational framework with the sole purpose to generate a conducive environment for discovery. It is not our place to take control or try to shape the conversation into what we think is supposed to be.
This is all about the coaching mindset and what we truly believe to be our role as coaches. If we feel the urge to be hands-on and take charge, it is probably time for us to stop and question what is bringing us to this. Each one of our clients has their own way. Each has their own personality and their own needs. We respect them, staying out of their way, just holding firm the space for them to walk their own path.
Giving Structure to the Coaching Conversation
If you have been to one of my workshops and classes or if you are one of my mentees, most likely you have heard me say: “coaching is a human-to-human experience.”
At the core of the coaching exchange is this human interaction that provides the coachee the proper space for reflection, exploration, and insight. Coaching is a partnership, and our goal is to create an easy flow between coach and coachee that creates the proper space for discovery and transformation.
What is important to remember is that, like water, this human exchange needs proper structure for it to make sense. Without clear shape and purpose, even with the best of our intentions, the process becomes haphazard and completely subject to chance.
Water without shape has no direction. It can go anywhere and even get wasted. Coaching without proper structure is not coaching. The conversation may be insightful, but it will certainly be accidental.
At the same time, too much focus on structure, too tight of a container, can also stiffen the moment, freeze the exchange, and stagnate the process. We do not want our coaching technique to be such a focus that would make the conversation stale.
That is why I love the image of water in a jar or perhaps even a flowy river or a mighty ocean. If you can imagine it, the water is still flowing. It is alive, but it has shape, a direction that makes sense and makes the water productive and life-giving.
This is the balance we coaches are constantly striving for. We want to establish this partnership, this ease of exchange with the coachee, while at the same time, providing clear support that enables the coachee to go through this intentional process.
By now, I am sure that you understand that this structure I am talking about is achieved by developing our coaching skills. The structure happens when we can bring our clear understanding of the coaching Core Competencies, not simply as an intellectual exercise, but as living and breathing concepts, perhaps delicate and strong as a crystal vase.
Creating this balance takes time and effort. It is somehow innate to us humans, but it certainly needs to be developed to be of true value. As we grow as coaches, we will see ourselves favoring one side or the other. And that is a natural part of our growth. That is why the idea of having a Reflective Practice is so crucial, so we can monitor our tendencies and biases and purposefully shift the pendulum to the other side, always striving for the middle ground.
Coaching as a humble and courageous act.
At the core of the coaching process is the true belief that our clients are perfect. There is absolutely nothing to fix. Our clients are able, resourceful, and full of potential. Coaching comes as an added tool to support these fully capable individuals to organize their thoughts, broaden their perspectives, and decide for themselves how they want to proceed more effectively and successfully.
To be able to partner with a coachee at this level of engagement, it is imperative that we, as coaches, cultivate a sense of humility and courage deep inside ourselves.
So often in our culture, our pride and sense of self-worth are anchored in the knowledge we possess. We have been groomed and rewarded for being the expert and for always having the answer. The problem is that in this “I know” environment, there is very little space for the other. With each of us being so enveloped in our own perspective we end up defending our points of view at all costs, and rarely being able to truly listen and collaborate.
You can see that, if we bring this mindset to coaching, there will be no partnership. We would be crowding the space with so much of our “I know” that there would barely be any opportunity for the client to take true ownership of their situation and to create their own growth and development.
Especially for new coaches, this is one of the most puzzling aspects of our practice. In a way, this seems counter-intuitive. How can someone benefit from our work if we are not there to give them advice and solve their problem?
However, we must remember that coaching is not transactional. Coaching is a transformational process. And transformation only happens within, not because of external advice, but by the client reaching a deeper layer of self-awareness. With that in mind, we can see that coaching is not about the coach or what the coach possesses. Coaching is about the other. Coaching is about the client’s own world, their experiences, their mindset, and the exploration of those.
The most effective coaches are the ones who learned how to tone down their egos, and their need for being right. Coaches are willing to step out of the spotlight to give room to the client. Coaches develop the ability to go beyond their own perspectives and reach out into the client’s own world. In a way, as coaches, we are just observers – trained in our craft, experts in our process, but humble and courageous enough to give the other their rightful space.
Cultivating this level of humility is not for the faint-hearted. It requires the courage to look inside, to challenge our own values and to grow ourselves into a level of internal stability and authenticity that has absolutely no need for proof. What I believe is just one possibility that has a huge probability of being completely irrelevant in the client’s system.
We can see how crucial it is for us to have an ongoing commitment to work on our personal foundation. Where do we get our level of self-worth? Where do we find our identity? How much do we truly love ourselves? What is the balance between intrinsic and extrinsic rewards? How much do we rely on external validation? By building this internal base, then we will have enough courage to reach out, to listen, and to allow the other to flourish.
Without this level of humility and courage, we are just talking, babbling at each other without a truly authentic exchange. As humans, we thrive on connection. As coaches, we must be humble and courageous enough to give the other the opportunity to fully speak, and to be heard so they can take their rightful place at the table and fully step into their brilliance.
Essential points to consider when creating a recording for certification with the ICF.
A crucial step in applying for a certification with the International Coaching Federation (ICF) is the preparation of sample recordings of coaching sessions conducted by the applicant. This, at first, seems like a simple task. However, this recording is the primary tool for the coach to demonstrate their skill level in the ICF Core Competencies. The ICF has specific expectations about this recording, and it may be a challenge to come up with a great sample that represents us well.
Below are a few points I have gathered over my years of experience mentoring coaches through this process, as well as being an active member of the assessor’s team for the ICF.
Record, Record, Record
I often see coaches starting this process naively expecting that the perfect recording will happen on their first try. Most likely that will not be the case. Once the record button is pushed, the pressure is on and usually our performance mode kicks in, our presence is gone, and the session ends up not being very successful. There is also the fact that the coachee may also get self-conscious about the recording and will need to get used to being recorded as well.
The recommendation here is to plan to record multiple sessions. Make recording a habit. Record as many sessions as possible and… listen to them. The more we record, the more used to the process we become. And then, after a while when we least expect it, the recording happens.
Also, the very first session a coach has with a new client rarely is a good sample of their skills. We need time to establish the coaching partnership and for the client to get used to the rhythm of coaching. Perhaps after the fourth or fifth session we can created a flow that allows us to be at our best.
We must remember that one of the requirements of this session is that it is done with an actual coaching client. Someone we have established an ongoing process with. One single session with a random person will not fulfill this requirement.
Select the Right Client
We coaches love our clients. We tend to think they are all awesome and perfect. However, if we pay close attention, not all of them are best for a recorded session. Verbal processors are probably not a good choice. Even though they do the coachee’s work well, they usually do not give the coach much opportunity to demonstrate their skills.
Clients who are themselves coaches are most likely not a good choice either. Trained coaches know the process too well and in trying to support us, they usually end up doing too much of the work and again, not allowing the coach to fully express their skill level.
The suggestion here is to look for someone who will be a good partner. Someone who can dance without taking the lead. Someone who will be engaged and can together create an easy conversational flow.
I also believe it is a good idea to engage with a few separate clients specifically for this recording process. Enter in an agreement of 6 to 8 sessions with the clear expectation that the sessions are going to be recorded, submitted for supervision with a mentor coach and later to the ICF. This way, the clients can be clear about their purpose for the engagement. This clarity of direction and purpose will facilitate the coaching conversation even under the recording pressure.
Aim for a 25- to 35-minute recording
If applying for an ACC or PCC, I would suggest planning for recordings around the 30-minute mark. This allows plenty of room for the coach to demonstrate their skills in all competencies while still staying clean, clear, and precise with the framework. If applying for MCC, the recording will most likely need to be longer to allow for more space, silence, and deeper exploration.
Onboard the Client Well
Coaching is a partnership. This means that both parties involved are working in synchronicity. For the coachee to enter this process well, the coachee needs to know what this is all about. How can anyone play without knowing the basic rules of the game? It is important to take the time during the first conversation to explain the expectations of the coaching process. Perhaps we can even share the basic tenets of the PRIME MODEL. Careful with the temptation to explain too much and overwhelm the coachee. This is just an overview, not coaching training. Simply let the coachee know that there will always be a need for a session agreement, and for an action plan at the end – all this happening through a process of discovery and exploration.
Coachees need to be aware we will be asking a lot of questions, that they will need to do the heavy lifting of the session and that they are also expected to do some pre work and reflection. It is unreasonable to expect that without any explanation, the coachee will engage in this process well.
Be Clear but Simple with Ethics
Since the recording is supposed to be with an ongoing coachee, for the sake of this recording, the ICF assumes the coach has established a clear overarching agreement for the whole engagement where ethics have been fully addressed. There is absolutely no need for a full ethical disclaimer at the beginning of the session. We would not do this in every one of our sessions with our clients, would we? No need for this in the recording either. The suggestion in this case is to simply make a quick statement either at the beginning or at the end (or both) of the recording like: “Thank you for allowing me to record this session.” This acknowledges that the client is aware of the recording in a simple and uncluttered way, allowing the session to start with the coach giving the client immediate control over the conversation.
Work with an Experienced Mentor Coach
This is perhaps the most rewarding part of this process. Before sending the recording to the ICF, it is important to have them assessed by an experienced Mentor Coach, giving the coach the opportunity for growth and development. The process of certification is not just about getting the accolade. Certification is yet another chance to hone our skills and become even better coaches. This to me, must be the primary focus of anyone aspiring to get an ICF certification.
Regardless of what level of certification we are pursuing, this process can be tremendously rewarding and enlightening – if we are open to it. My suggestion is to use it wisely. It is yet another step in our education. Every coach I have mentored that has embraced this process from this point of view has firmly declared at the end the tremendous benefit of it all.
All these certification requirements are not in vain. There is a reason for them and bottom line, they exist so we can all operate at a higher level, supporting our clients in the most effective way possible. Work with an experienced Mentor Coach to get the best out of this process.
The process of certification is a long hall. This is not something that happens overnight. Be patient. Give it due diligence. Remember also that even after all the preparation, and after submitting the material, it will take time for the ICF to review all the documentation. Plan for 9 months to a year – if not more.
Finally, we all know that there are many professionals out there with successful coaching practices who are not certified. At the same time, having a certification is no guarantee of success either. However, the ICF certification is an irrefutable demonstration of the coach’s commitment to excellence and our pledge to continually seek the highest standards of our profession. It is a confirmation of the hard work we did to master our skills in a process that has been tested and proven for its efficacy. It signifies that we follow specific ethical guidelines, and that we are not simply coaching from one single perspective and experience. Instead, we operate backed by the best practices of more than 40,000 coaches from all around the world.
Over the past three decades, ICF Certification has gained tremendous reputation worldwide. The process is challenging for a reason. I commend every certified coach for their commitment and willingness to join this amazing community.
Keeping a bird's eye view of the coaching process.
In coaching training, we put so much emphasis on the importance of developing our skills to manage a single coaching session that at times we may lose sight of the fact that these individual conversations are part of the overarching process the client is going through. Even though clients can achieve breakthroughs in one single session, transformation and growth take time, and it is crucial for us to learn how to support the coachee to navigate this long-term endeavor.
Since the beginning of our training, we learn that the client is the one who sets the agenda for each conversation. Sessions should start by giving the client the opportunity to clarify what they want to be the focus and the expectations for that individual interaction. While this is one of the fundamental points of coaching, if followed alone, it will probably lead to an aimless process without a central direction.
Remember, Core Competency #3 – Establishes and Maintains Agreements – addresses not only the importance of an agreement for the session, it also clearly addresses how to support the coachee in establishing and maintaining the focus for the whole coaching program.
What is interesting to me is that, if we pay close attention, the framework of the coaching conversation works both on a micro and macro levels. A skillful coach is an expert in supporting the coachee in both the session and the overarching coaching agreement. As coaches, we need to have the capacity to stay in the moment, and at the same time keep a bird’s eye view of the client’s development and main goals.
This does not mean that we become responsible for the direction where the client goes. This is still the client’s responsibility. Just like we are not responsible for naming the topic for each session, we should not take charge of where the coaching is going in a broader sense. However, just like we are responsible for bringing the framework where the coachee can establish a session agreement, we also need to create opportunities for the coachee to measure their process and to evaluate, tweak, and/or course correct, if necessary.
One of the best practices here is to create time markers where both the coach and the coachee already know they will be checking in. This will vary depending on each client and each process, but perhaps good opportunities would be every three or six months to stop and ask the client how they are doing overall.
This can be done at the beginning or at the end of a session or sometimes, even take a full conversation. Again, this is not a case where the coach is taking the lead. This is part of the partnership we establish with the client. It is like checking in with the client in the middle of a single coaching session. How are we doing so far?
Another great opportunity to take this approach is at the beginning of a season, perhaps an anniversary or at the start of a New Year. These cultural markers can give the client the time to take a breath, celebrate what has been accomplished and start again with renewed energy towards their goals.
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?