Coaching with Intentions and Intuition

Client: “What kind of coaching certification do you have?”
Me: “None. I don’t believe in them.”
Client: “Wonderful!”

The first time I was asked to coach someone was 1993. I’d never really thought about coaching before this, but this didn’t seem to matter to the CFO who had heard about the training programmes I was running in his company and asked to meet me. By this time, I’d acquired plenty of experience as a trainer; I was also a qualified and experienced school teacher and a divorced father; I was running my own small training company; I’d experienced plenty of change in my life, yet had never even thought about change consciously – it simply was. I understood what real problems felt like. I understood the client’s business; and we liked each other so decided to give it a try. If I’m perfectly honest, I was flying by the seat of my pants, but hey, who hasn’t done this in acute learning phases.

This was a long time ago and I’ve since learned a lot about a lot of things, including coaching. I’ve coached dozens of people – executives and individuals seeking support for personal challenges. I’ve attended courses, been coached, participated in collegial supervisory groups … yet I have never attained a certificate that labels me a “Certified Coach”.
Wait! – This is not quite true. I do have such a certificate. However, I consider it of no value. The programme was led by a retired executive – who is not a coach. It was interesting and fun. I met some interesting people. It was not however, a coaching programme.

I’ve always enjoyed coaching and now, I enjoy it more as I get older. So why have I never obtained a formal coaching certificate? – Quite simply, because I don’t believe in them.

All coaching institutes are self-proclaimed experts. Just like with all professional groups, some are very good, others are useless. The label is the same.
So many institutes sell programmes that teach a range of techniques to be learned and sometimes even outline the “X Steps to success” kind of programme – all of which are easy to sell to clients looking for “solutions” to problems. While I understand this, for me, it is not what coaching should be about. Neither is it what life is about. Life is not a problem to be solved; neither is business.

I find that clients come to me for coaching when they are stuck. Usually, they come of their own accord – and this is always best. Sometimes, however, they are prompted by a manager. While this may be fine, in such cases, there is more disentangling to do before we arrive at the root of the Questions they are trying to find answers to.

In the latter situations, I’ve learned to be aware of management interference in setting coaching goals for individuals. If a client is working towards fixed objectives set by others, a generative outcome is not possible and the core problem remains. Bluntly stated: managers of coaching clients should (a) not play any role whatsoever in setting coaching goals, (b) not be present in any meetings between the coach and the coaching client.
One paradox that many managers would be wise to consider: by letting go, they are likely to have far more influence on results than by attempting to control.

So, how do I as a coach, help clients get unstuck?
In a nutshell, I ask Questions – lots of Questions – that enable them to see how they are enmeshed in a jungle of interrelated systems. Within this mesh lie the patterns that tend to lead them to the same place in a different context, over and over again. Discovering these patterns, understanding them, and understanding how they affect decisions and behaviour enable the client to make the changes they are seeking.

There are no easily-definable stages to this approach. How could there be? It requires a strong intuition, the ability to play with Questions, provoke the client with observed paradoxes in their own patterns, an understanding of living systems, life experience. It also requires letting go of wanting to find an answer, of feeling responsible for the client. The coach needs to see himself as an influencer of the client’s system standing outside the system and therefore, leave his own preferences and beliefs outside. The patterns may become visible very quickly or it may take time to uncover them. The client may resist or go with the flow. Everything is unpredictable and the coach needs to feel comfortable with this.

Of course there are givens including … (a) Everything that happens in the room stays in the room; (b) No reports; (c) Clarification between Coach and Client of expectations, permissions, style of working; (d) Formulation of initial challenge to be overcome – between Coach and Client only. These ought to be standard regardless of the coaching approach. Often, unfortunately, they are not.

Some additional and absolutely essential enablers of success embedded in this approach …

The Space
Create, then hold a space in which the client feels free to open up completely: a generative space in which there is a sense that “new stuff” can emerge at any time.

The Invitation
As the coach, I need to invite the client into this space in such a way that s/he wishes to enter voluntarily. There is no push, no ‘musts’.

Intentions, not Goals
Pre-defined goals at the start of a process tend to close both the learning and the development space – and effective coaching is a learning and development space even if not specifically defined in this way. The formulated goals may or may not be relevant – there is no way of knowing at the start. If the formulated goals do not define the real purpose of the coaching, the whole exercise becomes pointless.

Intentions are open. They allow the client to work with the changes as they are occurring. And these changes are occurring throughout every session as well as afterwards as the client takes the experiences into their everyday life. Intentions take account of the complexity in which we live: for example, mood-shifts, insights, impulses, occurrences, experiences, encounters, changes in circumstances and much more. Intentions permit access to the space in-between.

This is client commitment. Without a strong intrinsic need combined with the willingness to actively work to overcome the challenge, there is no point to coaching.
Being coached is work, and will not always feel comfortable. There is no change without the work.

What do you wish for, hope for in contacting a coach?
Which Questions do you (think) you need to find answers to?