Partnering with Clients: Vulnerability and Growth - International Coaching Federation
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Partnering with Clients: Vulnerability and Growth

Posted by Guiseppe Totino, MCC, and Elizabeth Mangini, PCC | April 23, 2018 | Comments (6)

Vulnerability is the most accurate measure of courage. –Brené Brown

Partnering with Clients

The concept of ”partnering” is in the definition of coaching as well as a majority of the PCC Markers, including Creating Trust and Intimacy, Creating Awareness, Planning and Goal Setting, and Managing Progress and Accountability. Coaches, in their quest for mastery, need to increasingly exhibit their ability to partner with clients.

Vulnerability and Partnership

A coach’s vulnerability can challenge their ability to establish and maintain a coaching partnership. A coach can feel vulnerable in many situations during a session, such as when a client intensely and/or frequently cries, when there are times of prolonged silence, or when a client asks for the coach’s advice or opinion. Also, vulnerability may appear when the coach sees themselves as “the expert” of the situation and is tempted to teach or advise the client or to control the session.

When the coach abandons the coaching hat for another mindset and role—whether of a consultant, advisor, cheerleader, teacher or comforter—the likely result is disconnection. We are no longer in partnership with our clients, and clients live the experience as simply not being genuine. When that happens, it is no longer about the client; the coach becomes the expert.

Consider a situation where during a session the client starts crying strongly and for quite some time. As the coach witnesses the client crying, many thoughts go through the coach’s mind on how and if to stop the crying. The coach chooses to hold the space empathetically, in silence, and to let the client process the crying instead of jumping to a quick fix or any other disconnecting response. Once the client regains composure, the coach asks permission to follow up with the client by asking supportive, reflective and inquiry-based learning questions.

As a direct result of the coach’s competency-based actions in this example, the client was able to reflect on the experience and to walk away from the highly emotional moment, experiencing a difference in their own thinking and verbal response. As coaches, we support clients to learn and grow when we invite them to purposefully reflect on what occurred.  Should the coach have intervened in any way, other than being empathically present with the client, the client would have not gained the same genuine and authentic experience and learning. Coaches recognize that it is always about the client!

So, our challenge as coaches is to maintain our intention to stay in the coaching mode even when we feel vulnerable and to support an environment that fosters the client’s learning.

Embracing Vulnerability and Personal Growth

To achieve this, coaches need to embrace their vulnerability. It’s not an easy task! Doing so requires a lot of courage. Embracing vulnerability is about the personal growth of the coach and requires the willingness to practice vulnerability. That is, to step into the unknown, into discomfort. At first, a coach needs to recognize when and why the feeling of vulnerability is there, as well as have the self-awareness of when and why they are tempted to leave the coaching hat for other hats.

To further practice vulnerability, coaches need to embrace their own humanity and let go of who they think they “should be” in order to be who they are, improving their self-judgment and sense of worth. Just as clients do, coaches need to reflect on what occurs, especially when they believe they are “not enough” for a client, situation or relationship.

Coaches need to train themselves to reframe vulnerability from an expression of weakness to a source of strength, creativity and connection. The path of personal growth includes expanding our understanding of the ICF Core Competencies, especially with regards to the meaning of coach-client partnering and how to maintain it when feeling vulnerable. Recognize that the coach is not the barometer—the person being measured—in the coaching session. The coach is not responsible to find solutions since what happens in a session is all about the client.

Embracing vulnerability means that the coach recognizes there is no need for an answer, the client is in charge of what happens next in a session, the client’s learning and discovery can be supported by creating space for unpredictability, and the coach is ”good enough” when acting simply and purely as the client’s best partner.

To end with the words of Brené Brown, “When we work from a place that says, ‘I’m enough’ we stop screaming and start listening.”

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Guiseppe Totino, MCC, and Elizabeth Mangini, PCC

Giuseppe Totino, MCC, is an Executive Coach and ICF Mentor Coach trained to assess coaches who wish to master their coaching competencies and progress with their ICF Credentials. Giuseppe has worked with more than 1,000 top executives, middle managers, emerging leaders and teams from around the world. He has lived in and traveled four continents specializing in leadership, coaching and communication and conflict management. He conducts workshops and classes internationally. Elizabeth Mangini, PCC, is VP of M&A Clients Services for Cortland Advisors LLC. Elizabeth specializes in strategic succession planning, Executive Coaching and seminar delivery for leaders in business.

The views and opinions expressed in guest posts featured on this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of the International Coach Federation (ICF). The publication of a guest post on the ICF Blog does not equate to an ICF endorsement or guarantee of the products or services provided by the author.

Comments (6)

  1. Kim Moore says:

    Thank you for sharing this wise insight. The link between vulnerability and true partnering is huge.
    As a coach to many senior execs – the temptation to feel I need to ‘be their equal’. This piece gave me awareness, language and action to help me embrace the vulnerability and move back to being centered in my coaching hat!

  2. says:

    You are much welcome Kim.
    I am in agreement with you that there is a huge link between vulnerability and partnering. I am so glad that you have found this short article beneficial to your personal growth.
    Enjoy! 🙂

  3. Anna says:

    I love Brene Brown’s books about vulnerability. Thank you for reminding me the valuable experience I had when I read them!

  4. says:

    You are so much welcome Anna! I am glad that you found this short article useful.

  5. Marshall Wisoff says:

    Thank you for focusing on this topic. One can see it as no accident that Patrick Lencioni (The Five Dysfunctions of a Team), codified vulnerability as the initial characteristic underpinning healthy team dynamics . Coaches who reflect vulnerability as a core personal strength may also serve as an essential role model for those clients who need to bring this characteristic into their own organizational behaviors.

  6. Today’s ICF-CF newsletter mentioned interest in coaching topics such as “supporting a client to defuse emotional triggers” , so it was very nice to see this article relating to emotional processing. I feel like I’m in the right group, headed powerfully in the right direction!

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