Coaching is full of surprises

4th January 2016
“You can’t always get what you want, but… you just might find, you get what you need”, as the old song goes.

Being able to distinguish in advance between what you want and what you need is a key part of the process in hiring the right coach.

We often hire a coach because of industry experience or a recommendation from a friend. This makes sense, but it ignores the findings of coaching research. It is the coaching relationship itself that has the biggest impact on coaching effectiveness. That is why we, like other good coaches, have an initial chemistry conversation before we take on coaching clients.

And this is the advice we give to anyone looking for a coach to help them improve their skills or performance this year;

1) Be suspicious of industry expert coaches and recommendations

An industry expert can be blinkered by their success and their preferred working methods. You need a coaching relationship that is flexible, open, trusting and has the ability to confront the elephants in the room. A good coach remains curious; clients aren’t always comfortable with that, but they all appreciate it. An industry expert, is a known quantity, and is less likely to challenge your assumptions, or theirs.

2) Embrace the unexpected

When the client feels unexpected anger, frustration or indifference, the open and trusting nature of the relationship allows coach and client to explore the situation. There is often a shift from sticking with what’s comfortable, what we know to considering, as Donald Rumsfeld put it, ‘unknown knowns’, things we don’t know we know. Slavoj Zizek calls these ‘the disavowed beliefs and suppositions we are not even aware of adhering to ourselves’. These beliefs and assumptions, and the emotions that accompany them when they are challenged, affect our behaviour without us even knowing it. A good coach can help uncover them, often allowing the client to generate real insight into their own motivations.

3) Emotions are important

Behavioural economics shows us that we are more driven by emotion that we might like to admit. What does the client desire from the coach? What does the coach desire from the coaching sessions? A good coach considers these questions, as well as whether the satisfaction of desire is in the client’s best interests. Fulfilling a desire is also extinguishing a desire. That may not be what the client needs.

4)What’s outside the room affects what happens inside the room

Every business has hidden power relationships that will inevitably influence the coaching process. Because those wielding the power may not be in the room, they cannot be faced or challenged directly. It’s not easy to uncover and deal with these relationships when coaching time is limited, but it’s worth the effort.

5) There is no such thing as a job with one hat.

In addition to the job they are paid for, the client’s identity is also spread across the different roles they play in the business (leader, manager, mentor, coach, confidante and so on) as well as with their family and community. Unravelling the group dynamics and piecing together the client’s composite role is time consuming, but essential for clarifying context when it comes to making important decisions.
6) The coach is not neutral

The relationship between coach and client should be expected to follow the same principles that guide close relationships in general. This means more of a ‘peer-to-peer’ approach, where the coach does not hold back from sharing their own experiences with clients, and actively seeks to challenge the client in an appropriate way to help them overcome entrenched difficulties.

In summary;
  • If you feel comfortable, but not too comfortable, with your coach then the process is likely to be more effective
  • If your coach challenges some of your most deeply held beliefs, then don’t clam up. See where it takes you
  • If your conversations take some unexpected turns, don’t worry. That’s just a good coach doing what they do best.


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