One of the most helpful ways to understand coaching more clearly is by distinguishing what coaching is from what coaching is not. Coaching is not mentoring, counseling, consulting or just being a friend. Coaching is not telling people what to do. Coaching is not being someone else’s expert.
One of the best ways I’ve found to communicate these distinctions comes from a simple coaching book I picked up over 10 years ago. Amazon tells me it was March 12, 2005 to be exact. The book, Getting Started in Personal and Executive Coaching is a decent book for understanding how to go about establishing yourself as a coach. Early in the book, somewhere around page 30 if memory serves me, the authors offer a simple graphic for describing the relationship of coaching other fields. I’ve used a variation of that graphic for many years when I teach coaching. Here’s my version of the graphic:
I’ll never forget that day. It was during the Thanksgiving season and my oldest son was home from college for the long weekend. I was fairly new to coaching at the time and my relationship with Chuck could be characterized this way: I would tell him what he should do….he wouldn’t do it….and then we would argue about it….about the consequences, about his ignoring his dad’s impressive wisdom…and we would find ourselves at odds over and over again.
On this particular afternoon, Chuck was home from school and telling me about his latest (mis)adventures as part of a fraternity. He was lamenting the fact that it cost more than he had been told, required more time, and made demands that he was finding onerous. I reminded him of conversations we’d had during which I had warned him of these very things. And then Chuck said something that I guess I knew instinctively, but hadn’t ever heard out loud: He said (and I quote), “Well, Dad…just because you tell me something doesn’t mean I’m going to listen to you.”
Yep…he said it just like that. And while I knew this was true, and probably SHOULD be true, it was a profound moment to actually face this truth head on.
Kevin came into the coaching relationship eager for change – deep change that would create new contours in his character and prepare him for something big, bold, and life-altering. I admired his willingness to look deep within himself and the humility behind his openness to not just do things differently but to be someone different. However, as we progressed through the coaching relationship, something unexpected slowly emerged: Kevin needed shallow change.
You see, nothing was wrong or limiting about Kevin’s character. He’s a good man with a deep love for God, a willingness to serve others, and a very high emotional intelligence. It was out of his deep and good character that he embraced the notion that he was the one who needed to change. But while his openness to change himself was admirable, it was off target. He didn’t need to experience change deep in his character, he needed shallow change.
Deep change (aka transformation) comes when a coaching client strives to reach some new goal or realize some way of being only to find that getting somewhere new in life requires becoming someone new. As coaches, we often long for clients who are open to deep change and we strive to be able to facilitate transformation. Transformation comes from a new sense of self, an upgrade of the beliefs that hold the client, and the client’s new understanding of the story he is in and his role in the story. Deep change is change inside the client.
In contrast, shallow change consists of the client changing the things around him, not in him. Shallow change is easier in many ways. It’s all about taking new actions in order to get different results.