Inspiring Coaches to Follow their Instincts and Discover their Potential
I was drawn to coaching after spending five years in the domestic abuse volunteer service sector, developing community-based support services and managing a busy support team. I thrived on motivating and facilitating the team’s growth and learning, watching them stretch themselves into spaces and experiences that built their confidence. This ultimately led me to step outside my own comfort zone and attend The Coaching Academy’s introductory two-day course in May of 2019. I was immediately hooked.
Today, as a coach-in-training nearing the end of my studies, a hot topic of discussion with fellow students is what our niches might be. In a slight panic, I started to focus on what resources I could use from my past experiences to develop my niche. My instinct was to draw on my employment history in helping, counseling and team management roles to determine the type of clients I want to coach in the future. However, I started to doubt whether basing my niche on my past experiences would benefit new coaching relationships. Furthermore, I asked myself, “Am I in a position to determine what my niche will be so early in my coaching journey?”
Reassuringly, de Hann’s work on the “Differences between critical moments for clients, coaches, and sponsors of coaching” suggests that new coaches (like me) tend to hone in on those feelings of self-doubt. We can keep this in perspective and develop our coaching skills by reflecting on our own memorable or “critical” moments as a coaching client. Using this approach to filter my critical coaching moments as a client, I have gained insight into how my past experiences and instinct have indeed interfered during sessions where I’m the coach.
Looking back, I recall a client whom I perceived to have a similar background to myself, the journeys I have been on and the goals I have achieved. The critical moment happened when I asked a client to tell me how they would implement a plan to move further toward their goals. Planning was not on my client’s agenda, and it was my own experience of successful planning that unconsciously led me to ask the question. Although my client was grateful for my insight, my question resulted in me taking control and ultimately stopping their autonomous thinking process – a fundamental step in the coaching process.
In “Developmental Coaching, Working with the Self,” Tatiana Bachkirova calls this “self-deception.” It’s when our perceived commonality with clients leads to unconscious subjective questioning. If our coaching is directed by how we perceive our clients or based on our own experience and motives, we limit what our clients can achieve – essentially changing the session agenda without our client realizing.
So, what strategies should we as coaches develop to prevent our instincts from interfering with the coaching process? For me, the first hurdle has been adopting de Hann’s approach and reflecting on critical moments to raise my own self-awareness and increase my learning so that I can apply those learnings to future sessions. But how can new coaches manage instincts “in the moment” rather than using a retrospective approach?
Alison Hendren, CEO of coachingoutofthebox.com, offers techniques to “learn how to listen to gut instinct when coaching” before, during and after coaching sessions. What resonated most with me was how we can effectively use our intuition during coaching, provided that we mentally prepare ourselves to do so before a session. Through fault rather than design, I have learned that spending just 10 minutes before each session in total quiet clears my mind of distractions and raises awareness of my presence for the coming session.
Upon this reflection, I recognize that my area for development and improvement should be learning how to trust my instincts during coaching sessions. In ICF’s Core Competencies, the sixth competency is “Listens Actively.” Developing this competency will allow me to use both mine and my client’s intuition during a session to empower and create insight.
Hendren’s website suggests creating awareness of where my thoughts and feelings are as I prepare a response, recognizing where my response is founded, and then deciding how useful the response will be in the coaching process.
With all this in mind, the question still remains – how is my continued learning helping me to develop my niche? Interestingly, I found my answer while researching for this article. My focus instinctively shifted from hurrying to find my niche to figuring out how I can reach my coaching potential by developing my coaching skills and core competencies. And though I recognize that common ground between coach and client can be advantageous in identifying my niche, my focus as a coach-in-training must first be on developing quality coaching relationships.