Coaching is not about solving problems. Nor is it primarily about improving performance, attaining goals, or achieving results. Coaching is really about discovery, awareness, and choice. It's a way of empowering people to find their own answers and find ways to move forward as they continuously make important choices. It invites clients to see what options are available and recognize that every choice has a different impact. The co-active process intentionally combines both being and doing: being collaborative while actively moving toward one's preferred future.
There is much to digest in Co-Active Coaching, and this blog seeks to highlight just a few "takeaways" from Part 1. I invite you to read and reflect on the takeaways below, and share your insights at the end.
Coaches are aware of, and tap into their client's yearnings.
Coaches make assumptions and agreements transparent.
- Who we are and who we are in relationship with.
- Who we are being and want to be.
- How we are actively creating.
- What we are doing, or not doing to achieve our desired results.
Effective coaches honor the Four Cornerstones
- People are naturally creative, resourceful, and whole. They are capable of finding answers, choosing, taking action, and learning from their results.
- Coactive coaches focus on the whole person. The client is more than the problem at hand. Co-active coaches engage a client’s heart, mind, body, and spirit, recognizing that every issue and opportunity is entwined in the coachee’s whole life .
- Coaches dance in the the moment, recognizing that coaching conversations are powerful, dynamic interchanges between people. Every conversation creates tone, mood, and nuance. Coaches pay attention to how words are said and what it not said. In a truly co-active conversation there are moments when the coach leads the dance, moments when the coachee leads the dance , and moments when it is not clear at all who is leading and who is following.
- Coaches evoke transformation. Coach and coachee meet in this co-active conversation for a common purpose : the coachee’s full life . The topic of the coaching will likely be something quite specific — a fraction of the coachee’s life that the coachee is focused on.
The Four Cornerstones frequently show up in Vibrant Faith's coaching process and Coaching School curriculum. As coaches gain greater experience and move toward coaching at a PCC- proficiency level, I notice that they become more comfortable with the "dance" element of the coaching process that's described in this book. When coaches master the basic agreement of a coaching conversation, it frees them up to "dance" more frequently with their clients, and to discern when it's appropriate to lead rather than follow the client.
The Five Contexts
The five contexts listed below are always in play in a coaching conversation. Like five spotlights that are always shining, they help illuminate the coachee’s situation.
1 | Listening
The coach is listening for indicators of the coachee’s vision, values, and purpose. The coach also listens for the client's resistance, fear, backtracking, self-limitations, and perceived shortcomings.
2 | Intuition
Our culture doesn’t validate intuition as a reliable means of drawing conclusions or making decisions, so coaches often hesitate to say what our intuition tells us. We hold back because we don’t want to appear foolish. And yet it is one of the most powerful gifts a coach brings to coaching. For most coaches, intuition is a skill that needs practice and development. As we master this skill, we are more able to quickly synthesize impressions and information than before.
3 | Curiosity
We recognize that coachees are capable, resourceful and have the answers. The coach’s job is to ask questions that further the discovery process. The context of curiosity helps frame the process of uncovering answers and drawing out insight. Curiosity helps us be open, inviting, and at times, playful. Curiosity in coaching allows coaches and coachees to enter the deepest areas of the coachee’s life, side by side, simply looking, curious about what they will find. When coachees learn to be curious about their lives, they become more willing to look in the dark places and try the hard things.
4 | Forward and Deepen
The two products of the work coachees and coaches do together — action and learning — combine to create change. Because the notion of action that moves coachees forward is so central to the purpose of coaching, we often say that one of the purposes of coaching is to “ forward the action ” of the coachees. The other force at work in the human change process is learning. Learning leads to new resourcefulness, expanded possibilities, and strengthens our change muscles. I often wonder, "How often do I help clients pause and learn from their results?"
5 | Self-Management
In order to truly hold our clients' agendas, coaches must get out of the way which is difficult for some of us to do, particularly if we are fixers. Self-management shows up when coaches demonstrate the ability to set aside personal opinions, preferences, pride, defensiveness, and ego. Coaches need to be “over there” with their coachees, immersed in their situations and struggles, not dealing with our own thoughts, analysis, and judgments. Self-management means giving up the need to look good and be right. The light should be shine on the coachee, not the coach. Self-management is also about awareness of impact. In the course of a coaching relationship, coachees learn about self-management in their own lives as they see coaches demonstrate this practice during coaching sessions.
Final Thoughts from Part 1
Coaches serve as a change agent, entering the equation for change without knowing what the outcome will be. Goals and plans, new practices, new benchmarks, and achievements of every kind are all part of the coachee’s ongoing work, facilitated by the coaching interaction. If coaches are to be catalysts, this may require them play more than a passive role in a coaching relationship. When we aim for this higher purpose, we create the means for transformative change in coachees and, by extension, in families and organizations. Making a difference—helping others to achieve their dreams and reach their potential—this is why most coaches are drawn to this work.
QUESTIONS | APPLICATIONS
- How do you manage the tension between being fully engaged yet sufficiently detached when coaching a client?
- When have you experienced the "dance" of a coaching conversation?
- How can we more curious about the clients we serve without being nosy or taking clients to places they didn't wish to go?
- What are some ways you could help clients be more aware of their yearnings in life?
- What's the "difference" you're seeking for your clients that really energizes you?
- Is intuition an underutilized skill in your coaching practice? When does it show up?
- What's your process for evaluating the impact and partnership you share with your clients?
"Self-management means giving up the need to look good and be right. " This is such a stumbling block for me. I so want to be the best coach and get the client to where their preferred future is that often times mentally i focus or create fears of failure. I just love what this says.
Ladd, your point is an excellent example of what we talked about in class today...what self-limitations do we impose upon ourselves that can limit the client's movement forward. Funny (strange) how we can so easily place unrealistic expectations on ourselves (like perfectionism or having to be the best at coaching), that we would not impose on our clients.
Ladd, this can be such good news for us (even though we might struggle to live into its truth).
In preaching and in Reiki, I have told people many times, I have been given gifts and taught skills. I have practiced and honed those skills and shared those gifts, but when it comes down to it -- whether in the pulpit or in balancing energy fields -- my entire job is to get out of the way, and let God do what God is going to do. In neither role am I responsible for the outcome, only for showing up and doing what I've been trained to do, which means I don't get the credit, but I also don't have to own failure for recognizable transformation. Perhaps that helps you to reframe the coaching concept?
"As coaches become companions with their clients while on a journey of discovery, they draw out in their clients what they want to be different in their lives...They may want more for life...or want less form life."
Just reading these words for the first time created another AHA MOMENT. In simplest terms, we just want the client to imagine/name what they want to be different in life. And as their coach/companion on the journey of 'different' we can help them understand and imaging that this 'different' may mean there will be MORE of somethings and/or LESS of others.
It is truly amazing when you boil this whole thing called coaching down to "helping people imagine/name" which makes the role of a coach seem very doable. In all honesty maybe that is what we need to remind ourselves before every session... imagine/name, imagine/name:)
Thanks for the reminder, Mary, that less can be more sometimes! I tend to think about what needs to be done or added rather than what might need to be released in order for transformation to occur.
Hmmm. What do I need to release in order to grow as a coach?
Tom, I like this point too. A preferred future can be less of something. Sometimes I get stuck in "adding into" as the goal. I should know better as I myself have experienced releasing as being very healing and opening pathways to a better future.
That is a really interesting observation Mary and I wonder how often people have a deep desire for something to be different in their lives but have never given voice to those desires. Then, once people give voice to their desires it can begin a process where they can think about how they might live into those desires. Sometimes people spend all their time wishing something was different but don't know what that should be, but once they have a vision it can release their ability to live into it.
Mary, I so resonate with this as well. Our clients preferred future is likely very different than what we would see as the ultimate best if we were writing their narrative. Our best is best for us. The clients best is best for them.
Mary, that is so true and again NOT letting what we think is better or not get in the way of what the coachee desires. And I love the word "accompaniment that used previously as companions along the way of their journey and as a coach having clarity on "Different" without a value judgment placed upon was a reminder to me.
These five spotlights have me returning to the basic definition of coaching-partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires a client to maximize their personal and professional potential.
The last part of this-maximizing potential-requires change and change requires effort. For me, the effort involved in developing a coach-client relationship that is transformative is love. I'd like to believe that with love for neighbor as the underlying motivation in a coaching session every coaching session, regardless of how I might evaluate my own performance, will be life-giving.
Your statement about love is so critical to the discussion here… True leadership, which is Christ-centered, servant leadership is altruistic in nature, i.e. the thought of putting the needs of others before your own. Coaching, whether by a certified coach or from leaders within an organization, is a form of leadership – supporting the growth and development of a person by facilitating their personal “discovery, awareness, and choice.” This is only possible if the coach truly cares about their client – not just dollar signs, but a real human being that is moving and living in a unique way, a person who is “creative, resourceful, and whole.” If the coach’s motivation is to support and serve co-actively alongside the client then a transformative relationship will truly exist.
It really strikes me that one of the things that a coach must learn to do is to be curious without being intrusive. I find this to be one of the most difficult things to figure out, because curiosity makes sense to me. But, what I want to know and what I need to know and what the client is willing to talk about are all different things and figuring out the best questions to ask that draw the client out while allowing them to maintain their boundaries is a skill I need to develop. There is difference between what is okay in curiosity in a friendship and what is okay in curiosity in a coaching relationship, and figuring out what that looks like is a key component of coaching.
Nathan I would agree that the context of curiosity makes a huge difference and the complication in figuring that out occurred to me it is in the finesse of learning how to dance better with the coachee and getting to that place where we have talked about also learning to lead when necessary. I gather that it will become more clear in the "dance" as we practice more and are willing to take those chances in our coaching of one another and not be as concerned about doing wrong, but exploring how to learn to do it more organically.
The phrase 'detached engagement' has come up frequently in class. I've been thinking a lot about this because at the surface one could conclude the coach stay separate. But then, aren't we to come alongside? So, how to stay detached? Clarification is needed to say that the detached engagement is not with the client per se but rather detached from the outcome. Our egos are attached to outcome. The blog has helped frame what detached engagement looks like, sounds like, feels like. When listening, using intuition, being curious, putting together action and learning, we do then serve as the change agent. For me, being a change agent is why I want to coach. It is why I coach.
I find this to be a very rich discussion of how coaching can be transformative. The four cornerstones and five contexts are helpful. The cornerstone of Dancing in the moment and context of intuition are especially intriguing. I'm learning to trust my intuition. How do I further practice and develop it? I was also struck by the co-active process bringing together both being and doing. At times it seems that the coaching conversation tend to focus more on doing.
Thanks Dan. I too appreciate the analogy of dancing in the moment. Sometimes the coach or the coachee take the lead, and sometimes it is like the spirit is leading. There may appear to be missteps along the way, but the dance keeps going and the way to the next step is found.
I liked the dancing metaphor as well. I remember a man in my congregation inviting me to dance with him at an event, and he told me, "Put your hand on my shoulder, and feel where and how I move. Then move with me. It's that simple," he said. And once I did that, it was! When we as coaches do the same (figuratively speaking) with coachees, I think we'll find it just as simple.
It is the coach’s responsibility to facilitate “discovery, awareness, and choice.” This idea requires the coach to be fully partnered with the client, to be present, and dig deeper beyond the superficial ideas and noise that so often pops up during the regular sessions. In order to dig deeper, the coach must be earnest in their curiosity, open to whatever may come from the client (allowing the client to lead the dance), use intuition to direct questions, and lastly to encourage the client to move past just thinking and to put their ideas and steps for growth into actionable steps. As it’s been said in class, the coach must help the client get these ideas off the page and into reality. When a coach observes their practice as co-active it marries both the coach and client to a relationship built upon mutual trust that will facilitate real change. Without this co-active connection a meaningful and impactful relationship will be lacking.
In conversations with clients I have felt at times the "tension between being fully engaged yet sufficiently detached when coaching a client." I can relate to some of the specific situations that the client has shared and it has taken some intentionality to not interject by personal experience. I try to recognize that in the back of my mind and then move on. I have not had a coaching conversation that got overly emotional, but this reminder to be detached will be helpful for future conversations.
I think it's important as a coach not to get too ahead of getting to know the client. I need to practice not drawing assumptions even when the client shares a very familiar story to my own. The same as finishing someone's sentence or moving to the next question before the client has had the time to finish what they are sharing. The clients narrative, while sounding familiar, has a uniquely personal meaning that can only be theirs alone. It's so very important to remaining intensely curious in the presence of familiarity.
This was a great article in multiple respects, but particularly helpful was the highlighting of intuition as a vital aspect of good coaching. I'm at the stage of life where I'm trusting my intuition more. Using this in coaching, when combined with self-management, can hopefully be fruitful.
This is a meaty blog post, and I am sure an excellent book. The part that grabbed my attention the most was the concept of "forward and deepen." I envision pulling to strings from two different directions to strengthen a knot. That a good coaching session is simultaneously moving the issue at hand forward, while also deepening the understanding for the coachee about themselves, their patterns and intents. I think that is a great aim to strive for in questions.
Lea, the image of strengthening a knot by pulling strings from two different directions is a brilliant metaphor, and one that I am going to remember. I think a coach's curiosity about the underlying motivations and vision a client has can strengthen the client's movement toward their goals. Slowing down and going deeper can bring about the kind of transformation that has a bigger impact, rather than just moving through a to-do list to meet a goal. A coach's curiosity should serve the client and help them reflect, rather than answer the random questions a coach might have that don't benefit the client's own work.
I like the metaphor of "the dance" and if I end up coaching, I think that would be a fun place to get with a client. This article also reminds me to be curious without taking the client on a path that's not their choosing. I think to do that I'll have to ask myself if my question is helping me or helping them. But I do wonder if they are talking about a topic I'm not familiar with, if my ability to ask meaningful questions will be hindered if I don't ask some clarifying questions for myself as coach?
You need to be present in the conversation but do not fall into the trap that you have to fix the situation for the client. I love the analogy of the dance in a coaching relationship, I do not think I have had enough practice to really see the dance in the relationship, but I am eager to see it happen. Being curious starts with the idea that is what you want to be, it's a feeling like a toddler and you are learning about this person that you are coaching and internally you keep asking, "why". Yearnings how can I draw that out in a client I think it starts with building trust, someone is not going to share their hearts desires with a person they do not trust. What energizes me about working with a client is for a client to be heard, valued, and that a client really wants to live differently. Being a Christian I see the Holy Spirit being at work in the coaching relationship, some people may call that intuition, I like to say, Holy Spirit power. My process for evaluating the impact and partnership is to ask them how they feel and then for me to share with them the changes that I have seen them making as a result of our relationship.
Jim, your sentence, "Coaching is really about discovery, awareness, and choice." hit me between the eyes. I lean towards goal setting, but it's really about dancing with the client, following their lead, and in asking powerful questions, it reveals their heart and soul, they discover what's really making them tick and in the process of becoming more aware, and expanse of choices or opportunities may arise. Therefore, if I can be more curious about what they are thinking out loud about, it may bring about more self-discovery, leading to "aha" moments and high energy into actions steps.
Self-differentiation is an important skill in ministry as well as coaching. I don't know that I've mastered it, but I understand the importance of not investing or inserting myself into the coachee's situation, but keeping healthy boundaries in place for the coachee's wellbeing.
I would say that almost every coaching conversation I've experienced as coachee has been a dance. It is fascinating to see the way the dance plays out when coach and coachee are working together to discover answers to a coachee's dilemma.
Genuine, other-centered curiosity zeroes in on the coachee in a way that invites them to explore and celebrates their discovery. Such curiosity, then, is neither nosy nor arrogant.
Coaches can help coachees become more aware of their yearnings by:
Asking them directly.
Inviting them to paint a word picture of their preferred future,
Asking how they want to be remembered at the end of their lives.
Encouraging them to reflect on their yearnings and to create actions steps that move them toward a reality that embraces those yearnings.
I want my coachees to feel heard and supported, which often equates to feeling respected and cared about. I want them to live their dreams and to experience the joy of liberation from other peoples' expectations.
Intuition is one of my strengths. I am an INFJ on the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator. I am also a Reiki Master Practitioner and Teacher, which is another profession that relies heavily on intuition. I have worked hard to embrace that gift and put it to its best use.
I evaluate the impact and partnership I share with my clients by the rapport we have, how safe they feel in talking with me, the steps they take that move them forward, and the way they talk about that progress. I don't want credit -- coaching isn't about me, and the coachee is doing the actual work -- but if they recognize that the act of coaching is what got them to that place and encourage others to explore the practice of coaching for their own benefit and they refer, it says a lot about the impact and partnership we share.
What has always given me pause about coaching is knowing how much or little the coach should be directing the conversation. With the client as the expert, there could be the tendency for the coach to shy away and take a more passive role. This article really emphasized for me the partnership aspect of coaching. It is a dance and while you can certainly dance by yourself, isn’t it so much more fun to do it with a partner?!
One line in particular stood out: “If coaches are to be catalysts, this may require them to play more than a passive role in a coaching relationship.” Coaching is active. We want to help our clients transform, to discover their true yearnings, to step into their best lives. This can certainly happen without a coach, but it will likely take more time and more self-awareness that many of us possess. The dance of Co-Active coaching is about empowerment and transformation. While both can certainly be achieved by yourself, isn’t it so much more rewarding to journey with a partner?!
I, too, have struggled with how much to lead the conversation. The image of dancing with the client helps me remember that while we can't lead at the same time, there are times where I should let the client lead the conversation, and are movements can be spontaneous even though their is structure to the coaching process.
A friend taught me that providing interactive teaching environments enable people in the audience, class, or workshop, to 'own' the learning outcome because more than having heard the content presented, they've participated and so own what they've learned more deeply. Co-active coaching is like that—inviting rather than suggesting, asking rather than telling. Listening deeply and making room for the coachee to verbally process without judgement.
What words do you use to invite people rather than suggest?
For years, whether in a personal meeting or a class, I have given some kind of “homework” - a Scripture study, communication or work practice, prayer tool, a practical to-do, or a to-do with a goal, etc. I may initially present the idea and then invite by ask something like, “Would you be willing to do that?”, "Could you see yourself doing a variation of this?", or “Is this a fair challenge?” Of course, up to this point, I wouldn't know if they followed through unless they came back to me and told me (on occasion they do). But, after being in this class, after the individual agrees, “Yes, I’d be willing to do this (the homework idea)…” I am starting to ask, “Who do you have in your life who could support you with this and keep you accountable?” And I usually invite them to connect with me in a couple weeks to let me know how it’s going. With coaching, this direct questioning becomes part of the ongoing conversation and provides built-in accountability.
A couple things from this post:
1) this quote really hit me: "Do I know enough about the clients I serve to help them build on their best selves and honor the yearnings in their life?". I really thought that was insightful, and also a challenge in the early days coaching that we are engaging with. I have often been coaching someone in class and wondered about more context; but due to time, and worry that any questions to establish context would be more about me getting information than the client getting clarity, I have not asked those questions that might allow me to know more about the client. I feel like that will be a down the road question to keep in mind with longer term clients.
@ Regarding the question "when have you felt the "dance" of coaching, I would say that often, when I fear that a client is totally in the weeds, I keep trusting the process of powerful questions, and just when I start to wonder if "just a little advice wouldn't hurt", the client suddenly has a realization that feels, if not like a breakthrough, then at least a bit of 'unsticking".
How do you manage the tension between being fully engaged yet sufficiently detached when coaching a client? I ask permission to take notes to help make sure we are still talking about what the client wants to talk about. This helps me stay engaged in the conversation, but also allows me space to not get emotionally attached.
When have you experienced the "dance" of a coaching conversation? I have found that the more prepared I am and the more well-known the client is to me, the more I am able to "dance" in the conversation. I am able to let the client take the lead at some points.
How can we more curious about the clients we serve without being nosy or taking clients to places they didn't wish to go? This is still one of the more difficult aspects of coaching for me, and it all goes back to asking the "right" question and paying attention to how the client is responding.
What are some ways you could help clients be more aware of their yearnings in life? I love to ask people what gives them life vs. what is life-sucking. This helps them name where they prefer to spend their energy and ultimate guides them to what they truly want.
What's the "difference" you're seeking for your clients that really energizes you? Sometimes the clients steps are obvious to me and I want them to realize their next steps quickly. However, I love when a client's next steps are not what I expect. Those are the magical moments where the client has truly unlocked their potential!
Is intuition an underutilized skill in your coaching practice? When does it show up? As a coach, I am always aware and anxious about moving into the counseling or mentoring lane, and sometimes this anxiousness leads to a lack of trusting my gut. I have noticed that if I trust myself to follow the program and if I am paying attention to the client, my intuition will get me to the next question.
What's your process for evaluating the impact and partnership you share with your clients? Most of my coaching sessions have been in class and very limited in time. I am always hoping for a few more minutes to ask "What was helpful for you today?" Without being able to ask that question, I am evaluating the session on my own based on whether or not the client could name next steps.
"People are naturally creative, resourceful, and whole." This statement sums up not only my coaching philosophy, but a large chunk of my theology as well and, for me at least, is the key to helping clients become more aware of the yearnings in their life. So often we think we don't know what we want or what the next right step is but, if we get still and curious enough, the answers are there. That is the whole thrust of coaching for me--holding space and curiosity with a client so that they can listen and discern well so that they become the most authentic, effective version of themselves.
Coaching involves being present with the client while also giving them space. It's like a dance where you take turns to create something together. I think to be more curious about my clients without being nosy, I need to listen actively and be open-minded. Honestly, there are certain triggers that will create adrenaline in me, and I am finding it hard to not acknowledge them while also not letting them take over.
As for helping clients identify their yearnings, I can ask powerful questions that encourage reflection and self-awareness. What really energizes me is seeing the people I serve have that lightbulb moment that makes a positive difference in their lives. It's incredibly rewarding to see someone grow, develop, and transform as a result of our coaching partnership.
Intuition is an important skill I am always aware of and yet always questioning. I once had someone tell me I am at times vague in leadership when I don't need to be, trying to create buy-in when others simply want me to be candid. It's a subtle and intuitive process to balance this, but I find that when I do trust my intuition I'm able to ask more powerful questions and guide the conversation in a more meaningful way.
As a coach, I'd like to check in with my clients regularly to make sure our coaching is meeting their goals. I may ask for their feedback or use assessments to track progress and outcomes. It seems important to keep communication open and ensure our partnership is working well.
What's the "difference" you're seeking for your clients that really energizes you?
I'm not very far into my coaching experience, but I think that I'd like to be able to arrive at the place where people can make connections between feelings and action. Being able to recognize that those feelings of control or fear or whatever feelings play out in certain ways and limit us. I would hope that being able to coach someone as they make that mindset change steps toward being a whole person living into their calling and context can be rewarding fboth them and mean.
Is intuition an underutilized skill in your coaching practice? When does it show up? I think intuition is rather underutilized. I'd like to question my gut less, and follow it more. Mostly I think that I'm not readily able to do this because I am so new to coaching, but I'm certain I'll grow in this area.
How do you manage the tension between being fully engaged yet sufficiently detached when coaching a client?
-I think really leaning into curiosity can help with this. Allowing and sometimes insisting that the curious part of my brain stay in the forefront tends to help me observe without judgment and without taking the person's problems on as my own. I try to remind myself constantly that assumptions lead to misunderstandings and the only way out of assuming is curiosity and listening.
How can we more curious about the clients we serve without being nosy or taking clients to places they didn't wish to go?
--Active listening is helpful here. Leaning into curiosity isn't about finding out information for my own benefit but to help the client. Active listening combined with curiosity helps keep the focus where it belongs.
What are some ways you could help clients be more aware of their yearnings in life?
-- Ask questions that place the client as the main character in their life. It seems like so often people, especially people in ministry, are not able to figure out what they really want because they are busy fulfilling everyone else's needs. I like asking people to imagine that the voice of everyone else in their life was turned down to 1 and their voice was turned up to 10. What would they hear? Also, a ranking question could be helpful here. On a scale from 1-10 how loud is your voice right now... how could you move that up a couple of notches?
What's the "difference" you're seeking for your clients that really energizes you?
--Self-acceptance and claiming their power
Is intuition an underutilized skill in your coaching practice? When does it show up?
--My biggest asset is my intuition. I am learning to trust it more.
I feel that being a coach allows you to be supportive of the client, and detached enough because you are not the expert and you don't have the expertise. I truly believe that it takes a very special set of skills to put in other people's shoes.
What I look in my clients is that they are able to evolve and reinvent themselves in the version that they want to be. To achieve those "dreams", turn them into goals and accompany them on the journey.