“You need coaches who are very smart, intuitive about business and interpersonal dynamics, neutral in their assessment (i.e., not captured by their client), and can tailor the training to the individual needs (not a canned approach).” Source: “What CEOs Really Want from Coaching,” Gretchen Gavett, 8/15/13, Harvard Business Review
I spent my first few years as a coach searching for the right “can.” I was looking for the right approach to coach executives to be the very best version of themselves. My research showed me many different models developed by many different people with many different philosophies about the best way to coach people. Some models were wrapped in complicated language and technology, some were steeped in sales language and slickly packaged, some were expensive, some were cheap, but all had the same goal: help your clients be the best they can be.
When I began my formal coach training back in 2005 at the urging of my coach, I was expecting to be told exactly how to coach executives. I wanted the silver bullet, the formula that I could transfer onto my clients so they would receive the maximum return on their coaching investment. I was surprised…and confused…to be given a coaching curriculum that placed all the focus on ME. Seriously? I was paying a lot of money for this training, and I expected the training people to tell me exactly what to do and how to do it. Instead, they were telling me what I was doing and how I was doing it. What was the value in THAT? I persevered despite my misgivings, passed the final exam, got the certificate, and continued my search for the “right” way to coach.
It took a long time for me to realize that the training I received was really not training…well, not in the traditional sense. It was coaching. It was emergent. It was a process of self-awareness and self-acceptance that provided me with a higher level of emotional intelligence so I could serve my clients more effectively. And you know what? It stuck!
Using Gretchen Gavett’s words, prior to being coached (cloaked as training), I was “very smart, intuitive about business and interpersonal dynamics,” but I was far from being “neutral in my assessment.” What do I mean by that? I’ve got great business skills, strategic planning capability, drive for results, etc. I’m intuitive and can read between the lines. I see the big picture and can help people manage lots of moving parts. So I’d grade myself very smart, intuitive and business savvy. But I certainly wasn’t neutral.
Frankly, I didn’t know what I didn’t know about myself at the beginning of my coaching career. I had very little awareness of the parts of me that were preventing me from finding that place of neutrality that is so important for a coach to dwell in. Here’s an example. I naturally have a very strongly developed sense of responsibility. It is a strength most of the time, but when this asset was overused, it kept me from the place of neutrality. How? At times, I would notice I was doing more work than necessary. I would often track things that rightfully my clients were responsible to track; I sometimes created agendas for my clients’ sessions vs. letting them determine what was important; or worst of all, I’d secretly take ownership of my client’s success or failure. That was a lot of unnecessary pressure that certainly kept me out of the neutral zone!
Despite my level of self-awareness back then was I an effective coach? I believe my business acumen combined with my tenacity and quest for the ‘best way to coach’ allowed me to deliver value to my clients. But, thankfully, I had (and still have!) a coach who is self-aware, and from his place of neutrality, helped me understand that to successfully coach executives, I didn’t need to find the “right way to coach;” rather, I needed to sort out ‘my stuff’ so I could get out of my clients’ way. The coaching approach I employ is less important than my ability to build self-awareness in order to remain neutral. In other words, I needed to BE the best version of myself. (As it turns out, the best version of myself happens to be a great coach!) My coaching capability grew not because I mastered a new model of coaching, but because I stayed in a continuous process of development myself.
Today, when a prospective client asks me what specific coaching model I use, I let them know that I don’t utilize a canned approach because one size just doesn’t fit all; my clients come from all industries, geographic locations, and cultures. The process of coaching, however, in its purest form, follows the Universal Growth Process. That means on the road to success, clients pass through these phases: awareness, acceptance, action and adherence. Just about every executive development program out there assimilates nicely within this simple framework, making it possible for me to tailor coaching to each executive using whatever professional/personal/leadership development tools are available in the organization.
What a relief it was to discover that there is no single “right” way to coach; there are many methodologies that can lead executives to the becoming the best version of themselves. A successful coach recognizes that she/he is merely the facilitator of a process of self-discovery, and the best coaches are those who have done (and keep doing) the self-discovery work themselves.