A few weeks ago one of our coaching students asked a very good question: “What are the books every coach really needs to read?”
Now let’s face it, you’re not going to become a fantastic coach merely by reading about coaching. That said, you’re also not going to become a fantastic coach if you never read about coaching. Through their writing, coaching authors offer helpful insights, stretch you to consider challenging new practices and approaches, and bring some order to chaotic aspects of coaching.
Coaches are communicators. We specialize in effective communication in order to draw out what’s inside our client’s head, straighten out their tangled thought noodles, and clarify the fuzzy pictures of what’s possible. And one of the most effective ways to communicate well is the use of metaphors – a figure of speech that describes an object or action in a way that is not literally true but helps explain an idea or makes a comparison. As a coach, you don’t literally draw out what’s inside your client’s head – that would be creepy and illegal. And your client’s thoughts are not literally noodles or overly pixelated pictures. While metaphors are not literally true, the use of them in our communication is powerful. In coaching, metaphors work for three reasons.
Many years ago, my brother told me, “At some point in every person’s life, they could benefit from counseling.” That was important for me to hear. Everyone has been hurt. Everyone is stuck somewhere.
Since the need for counseling is prevalent, we are going to encounter that need in our coaching. As we build trust with a client, it may be the first issue that rises to the top. Brokenness brews and bubbles before it settles into the bones. Those bubbles of brokenness can be seen in most people I coach. If I can’t see them, I haven’t built enough trust. Sometimes the bubbles can be ignored. Sometimes they cannot. Let’s consider what a model for coaching might look like if we can’t ignore the brokenness.
When you coach a client at a level that’s deeper than simple goals and performance, you start to delve into issues of their character, values, emotions, and perspective. This is the territory of “who” as opposed to coaching that’s focused more on what and how. There’s a lot of benefit for a client who is willing to turn her attention from what she wants/how she can get it to who she is. But the land of who can also be confounding to coaches: How do we get there? What do we do there? And how do we distinguish coaching from therapy when exploring this territory?
Before we proceed too far, let’s be clear on an important aspect of coaching a client’s who: not every coaching conversation needs to go there. Plenty of great coaching occurs at the what/how level, so we shouldn’t diminish the value of helping a client create awareness and action related to goals and performance. We can frustrate clients when we push too hard or expect too often to explore their who. With that big caveat out of the way, let’s talk who.