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.
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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?