Blog Post: Defining a Coaching Partnership

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The ICF defines coaches as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.

The ICF’s definition of coaching is anchored by the word “partnering,” and then it is never fully defined. What does it mean to partner? While I have had difficulty finding an insightful definition of the word, the concept itself has changed my life.

  • My relationship with my wife has become a partnership. I don’t ask what I can do for her or what she can do for me. I try to ask how we can best do this together.
  • Chad Hall, my partner at Coach Approach Ministries, has taught and modeled partnership with me for several years. When I joined CAM, he summed up the partnership like this: “Currently CAM is Chad and Bill. When you join, it will be Chad, Bill, and Brian.”
  • I will not start a new project without a partner. Without a partner, it either fails or gets poor results. I refuse to rely on my own talent to force something into existence. (Maybe there is some theology in this statement.)
  • I have let go of friendships where my friend is not committed to reaching out to me as much as I am committed to reaching out to them. They must see the friendship as a partnership, or I can’t call it a friendship.
  • When I lead organizations with subordinates, I let my posture with them be partnership most of the time.
  • My default mindset working with churches is to help pastors, staff, and key church leaders to become partners and avoid both the “command and demand” style and the “refrain and abstain” style.
  • My default mindset working with business leaders is to flatten hierarchy (not completely) to create more responsibility and cooperation amongst the employees. The idea is to create partnership without deeding over a portion of the business.

Those are some examples of how partnering has changed my life, and yet I long for a better definition of partnering. The definition seems to be strangely hard to find.

Definitions of Partnering that I find lacking:

  • the state of being a partner or partners. – Oxford Languages (provider of Google’s dictionary)
  • The definition of a partnership is a relationship between two or more individuals. – yourdictionary.com
  • A partnership is an arrangement between two or more people to oversee business operations and share its profits and liabilities. – Investopedia
  • In conclusion, every partnership is unique, but all partnerships should include the [following] qualities to ensure mutual success. Remember both parties should be communicative, accessible, flexible, provide mutual, and have measurable results. These qualities are crucial in optimizing your partnership agreements. – cvent article

All of these definitions are from the first page of results when you Google “define partnership.” When I searched the ICF’s website for partnering, it wasn’t much better. I found one article that spoke of the importance of vulnerability. The seminal book on coaching, Co-Active Coaching, prefers to speak of the “coaching relationship” rather than use the word partner.

It is just assumed that we naturally understand partnership, and the truth is we don’t.  So let’s make a list of what needs to be included in a definition for partnership.

A Definition of Partnering should include:

  • We need to know how many people can be in a partnership. I’m not sure there is a limit, but I think the more people attempting to partner, the harder it can be. Three appears to be a particularly difficult number of partners as it lends itself to triangulation.
  • We need to understand how hierarchy works in a partnership. In other words, can one of the partners be the deciding partner? The default should be co-equal partners with a deciding partner being rarely necessary.
  • A partnership requires vulnerability, courageous honesty, and an openness to personal growth in each member.
  • The creation of a safe space allows for “dancing in the moment,” where my idea and your idea can become our idea.
  • A partnership starts with commitment to a shared well-being, purpose, and outcome.

In my next blog post, I’ll start with unpacking my understanding of a “shared well-being, purpose, and outcome.” If you have any resources that provide a definition for partnering, please let me know. Hopeful we can create a resource that might help us grow into becoming partners who the Apostle Paul described as “moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.” (Ephesians 4:13 The Message)

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