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.


What I learned as a client

As a client of who, you might wonder. The answer is, as a client of some great coaches. An important step in the professional development of every coach is to be a client himself/ herself. It is an amazing experience that can benefit the coach both as a person and as a professional.  In this post I would like to share what I learnt from being myself a client in coaching sessions.

Coaching is a fantastic learning experience

We all learn differently and there are different ways of learning. Reading a book for example is a way of learning. Attending a lecture is another way of learning. Which ways of learning do you enjoy the most? How do you learn best? Some ways of learning are more passive while other ways of learning are more active. According to my experience, active ways of learning work better.

Imagine attending a lecture where someone talks for an hour. Of course you will have learned some stuff after the lecture. You will have kept notes that you can take with you and review anytime. Imagine being a lecturer yourself. You have done your research on a topic and you have created a great presentation. In which of the two situations have you learned more?

Coaching is closer to the second case but goes beyond it. It is an interactive way of learning.  Imagine bringing to a coaching conversation a topic that you want to explore. The coach supports you in looking your topic from different angles. He/ She helps you to realize what you need to research further and/ or what kind of actions you need to take. The coach is there for you while you take these actions and is there for you to explore it further. Coaching is an approach than can really accelerate the learning process. You learn in your own pace, the way you want to learn and by doing so the positive effect in your learning cycle can be tremendous.

Topics can emerge out of nowhere

When you are unfamiliar with the coaching process you might worry that you have no topics to discuss. After all your life is so perfect right now and you don’t have any problems. Well, the truth is that coaching is not necessarily about solving problems. Something in your life might be good enough but is it perfect? For example you might be happy with the personality you have developed over the years. But are you 100% happy with the person you have become? Aren’t there any characteristics in your personality that you would like to improve further?

During my sessions as a client I realized that there is always room for improvement. My coaches helped me to explore the different aspects of my life and realize that there are many areas on which I could potentially use some coaching.

Going beyond talking out loud

And yes, coaching goes beyond talking out loud. Although talking out loud can be useful, we often get caught up in an endless self talk and fail to see beyond that. Self talk is about reinforcing our current way of seeing things, our current beliefs. “My boss hates me”, “I will never make it”, “They don’t respect my feelings”. Often we forget that the way we see things is just a perspective and there are other perspectives that could serve us better.  Sometimes we even fail to separate objective facts from beliefs. As a result we might get caught up in a never-ending vicious circle.

During my coaching sessions as a client I had the opportunity to work on different disempowering beliefs that I had and get rid of them. This not only changed my perception of reality, but also I gained a greater level of happiness. And that was really a valuable learning.

Coaching can really go deep

That coaching can really go deep is not obvious to everyone. Someone once told me that coaching is good for things like time management and nothing more. Well, according to the understanding I gained as a client, I can tell you that this perception is totally wrong.  Coaching can really go deep and can raise the level of awareness of a client.

If you are working with a coach towards achieving a goal, time management is an aspect involved and is a relatively important aspect. We could, however, argue that there are other aspects involved that are even more important. One of these aspects is alignment.  A person really cannot be dragged towards achieving a goal. If a person sets out to pursue a goal, which is not in alignment with his /her values and his/ her life purpose, it is clear that this person will not commit himself/ herself to the achievement of this goal. Furthermore if this person does not clear up the various disempowering beliefs that might block him /her along the way, he / she might even give up.

Coaching is probably the most effective structure for supporting a person achieving goals by removing this kind of obstacles. Therefore, coaching can play a huge role in the journey of a person towards self discovery and self development.