Let’s now look at a small part of coaching to exemplify what each coach’s responsibility consists of.
Let us start with ICF’s definition of coaching, which is very complete and integrates definitions of several authors: “Coaching is a partnership with clients in a creative and challenging process of thinking that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential, which is particularly important in the uncertain and complex environment of today.”
Coaches honor the client as the expert in their life and work and believe that each client is creative, resourceful and complete. Based on this foundation, the coach’s responsibility is to:
- Discover, clarify and align with what the customer wants to achieve
- Encourage customer self-discovery
- Promote solutions and strategies generated by clients
- Make the customer responsible and respond for his results
- This process helps clients drastically improve their work and life vision while enhancing their leadership skills and unleashing their potential.
Let us now analyze each of these principles applied to an example of use in coaching.
Discover, clarify and align with what the customer wants to achieve
The coaching process is focused on the coachee’s choices, so that the image of the future you want is clearer. What matters are future possibilities, not past mistakes. The intention is to remind the coachee that he has the ability to change and choose. The questions help the coachee to make the picture clearer. In addition to the final goal, one examines what underlies this goal, what the consequences of that goal are, and whether commitments must be made if there are conflicting wishes.
This ingredient contributes a lot to change. Indeed, as Kim Berg points out, the longer the coachee talks about the things he wants in the future, the more cheerful, excited, and creative he gets. And the opposite is also true. For change to occur, it is necessary to first imagine it and talk about how it will be.
Let’s look at this in practice. Consider the Daisy´s case, director of operations of a multinational, who after undergoing a coaching process requests two more sessions, because a new problem has arisen and she is having difficulty solving it alone.
She says she doesn’t know how to relate to her new boss because he is quite demanding and critical. She feels petrified and is already questioning whether to stay in the company. She has difficulty sleeping, can not respond to what they ask and feels in danger because she thinks she has to change jobs. However, she loves her job, her team and the vision of the company, and so she wants to solve this problem.
In the case of Daisy´s coaching process, this principle was worked out as follows:
Coach – Daisy, what do you want to achieve in this session? What’s the necessary output of this coaching session so that we can say that the time we spent here was useful?
Daisy – I’m not sure. All I know is that I can not continue to be criticized by my boss because I am losing all my confidence in me as a professional and I feel like I’m putting my job at risk.
Coach – And what does it need to be changed first so you do not take that risk?
Daisy – I need my boss to see me as a competent professional.
Coach – Can we then consider that the goal for this coaching is for you to be clear to yourself how you can demonstrate your competence to your boss?
Daisy – Yes, I would be much more calm if I could accomplish that.
Coach – At this point, on a scale of 0 to 10, in which 0 is unclear, and 10 is to be completely clear how you can demonstrate your competence, how much would rate yourself?
Daisy – Now, I would give it a 3.
Coach – And how much do you want to have at the end of this coaching session?
Daisy – I would be very sattisfied with a 7.
Coach – And what would that 7 be like?
Daisy – I would know how I could impress him… what strategies to use to better manage my time, so that I could do the work that he values the most.
Coach – Anything else?
Daisy – And I would also know how to be safer and calmer.
Coach – And when do you want this to happen?
Daisy – I wish I could feel that way in three weeks.
Coach – So let’s assume that it’s already been three weeks and you already have it all clear and you’re doing very well. How do you know you’ve succeed it?
Daisy – That’s an easy one. In the morning, I would go to work enthusiastically after a good night’s sleep. I talk quietly to my boss about the data he asked me the day before, which I had already prepared in advance, and still present him with some graphics that he didn’t expect me to have already analyzed.
He would be very impressed if I did this consistently.
Coach – And what is your posture and facial expressions towards your boss?
Daisy – I’m straight and smiling.
Coach – And your voice, how is it?
Daisy – Steady, the tone is louder and more serious.
Through this small dialogue, the coachee is already focused on her goal, which is SMART, that is specific, measurable, achievable on its own, realistic and defined in time. It also has a clear picture of the goal to be achieved and is focused on the possibilities of the future and not on the mistakes of the past. In this way, you feel more excited, which is confirmed by non-verbal behavior. In addition, there are already some areas where you will focus on achieving the goal.
Encourage the customer’s self-discovery
The coach helps the coachee to get a clearer picture of the current reality, by being aware of how he thinks and defines the problem. The coach is focused on the thinking process and not on the content of the problem. What the coach essentially does is to listen and ask questions, not because he wants to know the problem’s details, but rather so that the coachee can see his own thinking process and reveal more to himself.
The coach does not need to listen to the content of what is said; Just listen to the way the coachee is thinking, how his attention is focused, and how he defines the situation. As Timothy Gallwey points out, “(…) the question ‘What do you imagine as a consequence of your decision?’ does not refer to the content, but it can make a significant difference in the way the person is thinking”.
Generally, only the fact that reality becomes clearer already contributes to solve the problem. Questions to promote awareness have to be made in a non-judgmental context to avoid a defensive attitude that prevents awareness. Through them, the coachee becomes more aware of how he will direct his attention in the next experience.
I report the part of the coaching that aimed to encourage self-discovery from the coachee:
Coach – So tell me what’s going on in your work with your new boss?
Daisy – My boss is getting worse. He indirectly implies that I am not competent and asks me many questions that I can not answer. He always knows everything and is much faster than I am. At this point, we hardly talk, except for the essential issues. I can’t take this stress anymore.
Coach – From what I’ve noticed, what worries you is your boss implying that you’re not competent, not knowing how to answer his questions and the fact that he is faster. And what’s your reaction when he criticizes you?
Daisy – I become angry and unmotivated.
Coach – And what other reactions have you had?
Daisy – I often say I don’t know. Other times I say that I will give him the information he wants. Sometimes I say I don’t have the information because I didn’t have time to work on that topic. Other times, I give only the piece of information I have.
Coach – It seems like you already have some solutions, but you still want more. I’ve been noticing you’re physical posture, and it’s quite different since our last sessions. What can you say about your posture right now?
Daisy – Is it that obvious? Actually, I’ve been a bit shrunken, because I’m very tired with so much work and little sleep, but I didn’t know it showed.
Coach – And what is your stance lately when you are with your boss?
Daisy – I have no idea. I’ll start noticing that.
Coach – What do you notice about your boss when you’re talking to him?
Daisy – I noticed that he speaks louder and more tense than before. I’ll also be more alert to that.
Coach – Daisy, and what used to work with your boss?
Daisy – I don’t know. I think that when I spoke firmly he was calmer. He also liked me to tell him exactly when I could give him the numbers, and then I would give them to him at the agreed time.
Coach – So you know two things that work well. And what is not working lately?
Daisy – Come to think of it, he gets angrier when I speak hesitantly. But when I don’t know I can’t speak firmly, and now I have so much work that I can’t analyze everything very well and I get insecure.
This small analysis of reality has made it clearer for the coachee, and in his mind several clues have emerged to solve the problem. She even got more aware of how to direct her attention the next time she’s with her boss.
Promote solutions and strategies generated by customers
The change materializes with the action and, therefore, the construction of the plan of action by the coachee is critical. The coach asks questions that help the coachee brainstorming and then to choose the ideas that will allow him to reach the goal. The focus is on what resources the coachee has and how he can overcome the obstacles that will arise. Coaching conversations are aimed at the coachee gaining more access to his resources to move from current reality to the desired future.
This implies that in order to have a true coaching process, the coach must truly believe that the coachee has the resources needed to solve his problems. You have to be far more optimistic than the usual about the sleeping capacities of all people – you have to believe in the potential of the other. Only believing that the coachee has more capabilities than those that he is expressing will the coach be able to help him express them.
In Daisy’s case, we can observe this principle as follows:
Coach – To achieve your goal, how can you get the analysis done in advance?
Daisy – That’s very difficult with the workload I have … Maybe I can delegate some of the analysis to my team so I would just need to review them.
Coach – To whom can you delegate those analysis on the team?
Daisy – There’s a person who is very good technically and in whom I trust a lot. It could be her.
Coach – And more… What can you do more to have the analysis done in advance?
Margarida – Umm… I don’t know. What do people usually do in this situation?
Coach – What would you like to do?
Daisy – I don’t know. Can you give me some idea?
Coach – What does it occur to you immediately?
Daisy – I can stop doing some of the things that the commercial director is always asking me to do which consume a lot of time. My boss has told me to do this several times, but I’ve only been able to do it a few times. That commercial director is very persuasive.
Coach – What did you do those times when you said no to the commercial director?
Daisy – Once, I explained him that I couldn’t make the changes that he proposed in the production, because it would have very high costs. I showed him some data and he understood it perfectly. This has always been the way I convinced him not to give me more work.
Coach – So far, you’ve already found two solutions to get the analysis done in advance: delegate some to an element of your team and say “no” to the sales manager more often. What else do you need to do to make you feel better about your boss?
Daisy – I think I need to have an open conversation with him and ask him what he thinks I need to change. Tonight, I’m going to think about how I should have this conversation to make sure I’m assertive and confident.
Coach – That means you’ve already discovered three possible actions to achieve your goal of showing that you are competent to your boss. What other qualities of yours could you use in this situation?
Daisy – I used to be very good at analyzing data and presenting the results. I can improve on the next report I’ll present to him.
Here, we can see the coachee having ideas for her plan of action. The coach does not give solutions, instead he helps the coachee brainstorming and using her own resources, trusting that she can figure out the solutions to her problems by herself.
Make the client responsible and accountable
One of the main missions of a coach is to ensure the responsability of the coachee for his results and thus, to make the action plan happen. This way, he also assures the coachee’s confidence in himself. In order for people to believe in themselves, they must have someone who believes in them and encourages them to take their own decisions, they must accumulate successes and know that their success is due to their own efforts. The coach asks questions that help the coachee choosing the solutions that will allow him to accomplish the goal and to know how he can overcome the obstacles that will arise. Accountability means that the coachee takes account for his actions and learning in relation to what he has committed to do. There is no judgment or fault. He responds to what the results were, what worked and what he’s going to do differently.
Continuing with Daisy’s case, this principle was applied as follows:
Coach – I’m feeling like you’re much more capable of dealing with your boss than you think. You’ve already suggested several solutions. Tell me what will be your first steps to demonstrate your competence to your boss?
Daisy – I’ll start by delegating to my team the preparation of some data that my boss often asks me for, so I’ll have time to make a great report of last year’s results. Only then will I have an open conversation with my boss. In this meeting, and others in general, I will pay special attention to my posture. In the meantime, I’m going to say “no” more often to the commercial director’s requests… I think I’m already seeing the light at the end of the tunnel… After all, it looks like it’s going to be easy! A half an hour ago, I was just thinking about resigning…
Coach – You have much more ability to solve problems than you think. And what obstacles may come up in relation to the actions that you’ve suggested until this moment?
Daisy – The most difficult obstacle will be for my boss to have availability of time or openness for the conversation I want to have.
Coach – How will you overcome this?
Daisy – I can tell him that this conversation will help the company’s goals to be achieved and that it is very important to me.
Coach – And what person are you becoming when you do all this?
Daisy – In a determined, confident and professional person! What I’ve always wanted to be …
In this dialogue, the coachee makes the decision about what she commits herself to do and realizes what can stop her and how to solve those obstacles. She is also aware of the many resources she possesses to accomplish her objectives, gaining the necessary self-confidence to naturally find more solutions to her challenge. This way, she is prepared to make her future happen.
English translated excerpt of the 1st chapter of the book “Coaching: Going Further Inside”, ICF Portugal (International Coach Federation), co-author and Executive Coach Isabel Freire de Andrade