Professional coaching is of course goal orientated to help people make meaningful progress. The International Coach Federation, that I'm a proud credentialed member of, defines coaching as "partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximise their personal and professional potential". Deeper than that still, it has the depth to really provide a transformational experience. This is what I got super excited about, and unfortunately somewhat obsessed with early on. So what happens when a coaching partner wants just a focus on goals, and no personal development?
Following the articles "What all coaching classes should be like" and "Was I wrong about NLP?", this is the third post in the series, sharing parts of my essays for my postgraduate certificate in personal & business coaching with Barefoot Coaching and the University of Chester. This section is from the essay titled: "Coaching in practice: The futility of perfectionism as a coach".
Accountability versus personal development coaching
A coaching client I started working with towards the end of the Barefoot programme found the coaching very beneficial, yet after 3 coaching meetings wanted to change the focus and get help staying accountable to accomplish tasks and actions, not related to personal growth. This situation presented me with a new choice. Up until this point I had not really considered what kind of coaching I would or would not want to offer, other than excluding to coach someone through personal relationship issues.
When the coaching client realised that this is what they wanted, I detected in me that I was not reacting positively to this, in terms of what that meant for the type of coaching I would serve the client with. I wanted to offer a perfect coaching experience and detected a conflict in me that might get in the way. We agreed to re-contract at the beginning of the next coaching meeting giving me time to consider (Downey, 1999).
In my contemplation I faced my definition of what a “perfect coaching experience” meant to me. Studying the overlaps and differences between the co-active coaching model and others, such as what is described in ‘Coaching for Performance’, helped me learn about different styles. I understood that I believed in the more non-directive end of the spectrum (Starr, 2010). I evaluated what my preferred style would be and couldn’t quite get to specificity. Concluding that I lacked the experience necessary to be able to succinctly describe my style at the time, I could only formulate that I wanted to help people transform and become even better versions of themselves. It also became clear to me that acting purely as an accountability partner for the pursuit of basic actions and tasks not related to personal growth, through coaching was not interesting enough for me, but I wanted to find out based on experience, rather than rely on an assumption.
At the next coaching meeting we re-contracted (Downey, 1999) and I was transparent about my experiment. We agreed that the remainder of the coaching programme would be focused on helping the coaching client set action goals and be held accountable for achieving them, through coaching.
This experience helped me to learn through experience that this form of coaching, while still helpful to those people who seek it, does not have enough space and focus on personal growth. It is the experience of getting to witness personal growth that I am passionate about. I found myself very grateful for having clarified this for myself. The journey continued to provide perfect coaching experiences.
- Whitmore, J. (2002), Coaching for Performance. Nicholas Brealey Publishing. Retrieved from https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/949515.Coaching_for_Performance
- Downey, M. (1999). Effective Coaching. Texere Publishing. Retrieved from https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2774995-effective-coaching
- Starr, J. (2010). The Coaching Manual. Pearson Education Limited. Retrieved from https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/19573234-the-coaching-manual
Every coach will find their style and continue to refine it. Every coaching partner will have a preference, based on where they are upon meeting a coach. That's why that first coaching meeting between coach and coaching partner is so important. It is sometimes called chemistry session, or goal exploration meeting. It is fortunate for me that even during the Barefoot Coaching programme an opportunity presented itself that had me think deeply and hard about what kind of coaching hits it home for me as a coach. I am grateful the coaching partner agreed to this experiment of mine.
Since completing the Barefoot Coaching programme in early 2016 I
had have the joy of working with coaching partners for several hundred coaching experience hours and counting. With every new coaching partner I met we have ourselves a great first coaching meeting. This helps the coaching partner establish their goals and get to know me and my coaching style. It also helps me to get to know the coaching partner and how they like to learn and make progress. It helps both of us to work out whether we're a strong fit.
It has happened also to me that some leaders want to start with coaching to pursue very specific actions or goals. After a few coaching meetings, when enough rapport (and trust) with the coach exists, and enough familiarity with the coaching approach, such leaders tend to go more into personal development. This is fantastic and usually ends up in much more impactful results.
So if you're a coach, I invite you to evaluate what resonates with your passion and be true to that. If you're a leader, I invite you to really use that first coaching meeting to get to know what it is like to work with this particular coach and ensure a good fit. The rest will unfold as and when you like.
As far as my quest for providing the perfect coaching experience goes, stay tuned for the next article in this series.