What I have learned as a coach

Coaching is a journey and not a destination. If I am a traveler in the coaching journey, writing this post, feels like contemplating a beautiful view at a train station. While contemplating this beautiful view I reflect on the things I have seen so far in my journey and I am curious about what is coming next.

Centering yourself and the client

I like starting my coaching sessions with a relaxation exercise. I have found it a very useful way to create a mindfulness space that facilitates the client’s sharing and takes both the coach and the client more into NOW. Even though I know that the relaxation exercise adds value to the session I do not take for granted that the client wants to do it.  So, I always ask for permission first before proceeding with the exercise.

In my coaching journey I have realized that counting on the relaxation exercise for centering myself as a coach before a session is not sufficient. Firstly, because there is always the possibility that the client refuses to do the relaxation exercise. Secondly, because wearing the coaching hat requires more preparation. In a couple of cases I did the mistake of starting a coaching session the minute I stopped doing something else. It just didn’t work. Perhaps, the client did not notice any difference. But, I did. I noticed a difference in my coaching presence and in my performance as a coach. So, before starting a coaching session a breathing space is required, a space that will allow you to wear your coaching hat, to reconnect with the coaching process and with the specifics of your client. A good way to do it is by reviewing notes from previous sessions.


Linking between sessions

Reviewing notes from previous sessions can also be helpful for making the connection between sessions in a creative way. Clients do not always come to the coaching session as prepared as we would like them to come. A client might have committed to take a specific action in the previous session but we don’t have any idea whether this action has really been taken. And if we don’t ask, the client possibly won’t tell us either. Furthermore, there might be a need to continue the conversation from where we left it in the previous session. So, the question “what would you like to discuss today”, is a good way to start a coaching conversation but not without reference to what was discussed in the last session. The coaching agenda belongs to the client but often we need to act as a reminder of what made sense to the client as a coaching topic in previous sessions, especially if we feel that the client has not made any progress yet with regard to issues discussed previously.


Dancing with the client

A coaching session is a dance with your client. Have you ever taken any dance lessons? When I was learning to dance salsa, after a couple of lessons I had learned the basic step. “That’s that!”, I thought, “I can now dance.” Well, I was far from that! I hadn’t realized back then that dancing is more than learning the basic step. Of course, learning the basic step is a starting point. But to really dance it takes time. If I could observe myself on the dance floor, I would know that what I was doing after a couple of dancing lessons was not dancing at all. Both coaching and dancing require three things: practice, practice and practice.

So, what looks like a dance with a client is a coaching session? It means letting the client take the lead, while the coach is just following along. It means harmony and magic. It means letting go of your coaching agenda and be present in the moment. It means trusting your intuition and allowing client to trust theirs.


Awareness and action

Recently, at the end of a coaching session, I asked a client, “can you think of any actions to take during the week in relation to this?”. The moment I asked this question, I realized that it was the wrong question to ask. Why is that? Because, during the session the client had reached such a great awareness in relation to the topic discussed that the thought of taking further action within such a short period just seemed out of place. Action is not only about doing but also about being. Raising our awareness on something is like taking action… in our heads. And it is an action that also takes time to be completed and settle. As coaches we should be aware of these internal processes and allow our clients to take their time and prepare themselves for a next step.


The role of tools

Assessments, questionnaires, visualization exercises are some of the tools that coaches have in their handbags. Having a variety of tools to choose from, creates a feeling of security to the coach. Tools can enrich a coaching session and support a client in their discovery journey.  However, tools should be used with caution. A coach needs to travel light. Coaches should not be attached to their tools because tools do not replace the coaching presence and the coaching competencies. Coming to a coaching session with the intent to use some specific tools means coming to a session with an agenda. And coaches need to always leave their agendas behind. Thus, the use of tools should be integrated in a coaching session in a creative way and only if it really serves the client and the client offers permission.


The role of personal development

The most important learning, for me probably, is how much the personal development of coaches influences their coaching performance. This is linked to a number of reasons and coaching factors and is further explored in my previous post “Psychological Dimensions of Coaching”. It is a realization that serves my commitment to my continuous improvement as a person and strengthens it.


Self evaluation after sessions

If we are committed to our continuous improvement as coaches, we need to spend some time on reflection after each coaching session. “What did you learn from the session?” “What would you do differently next time?” These are questions that can help us evaluating ourselves and our performance as coaches after a session. Coaching is a never ending journey and there is always room for improvement. Self evaluation after sessions is a way to consciously pursue improvement and accelerate it. Checking often with the client what works and what doesn’t and asking for feedback after each session can also support our self evaluation as coaches.


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