The second in a monthly series of 11 posts presenting my thinking and experience on the topic of coaching.
This is going to be personal, because I can’t tell you how to best prepare yourself to deliver value as a coach. You’ll likely figure that out for yourself.
So I’m going to talk about myself, and my preparation as a coach, based on this idea: If I disclose my own thinking about me, maybe that will stimulate your clarity about you.
Specifically I want to share four disciplines that (experience has taught me) make a difference in the quality of my coaching.
Discipline #1: Maintaining a strong body
The state of my physical well-being dramatically impacts my presence, confidence and clarity.
If I don’t get enough sleep, or eat junk food, or sit too much without vigorous movement, I become tired and “heavy.”
I’ve noticed that my mental sharpness and stamina increases with sweat-producing exercise.
When I get seven or eight hours of sleep at night, I function differently during the day. I’m less impulsive, and more poised and alert.
I’ve observed that my behavioral flexibility follows the patterns of my physical flexibility. Stretching expands my range of motion and prompts my brain to also expand and stay loose.
My movement regimens include a lot of lifting, bending, pushing and pulling. Whether weightlifting workouts in the gym, pushing a wheelbarrow full of dirt up a hill, pulling weeds, or practicing tai chi, I try to vary the routines so that as many muscles and tendons as possible get regular attention.
Discipline #2: Reflecting on my life/work experiences
Many years of research, family systems knowledge, coaching sessions and deep conversations regularly come into play when I am working with clients.
So do my past family interactions, prison visits, cultural immersion trips, friendships, relationship mistakes and close calls.
This happens in a variety of ways. Sometimes, my past experiences help me better understand what someone is going through.
When the song I’m hearing sounds familiar, I am often better able to formulate useful questions.
Life experiences become rich resources for me to draw upon, but only to the extent that I have reflected on what I have observed. Everyone has experiences, but not everyone learns from experience. Reflection nudges me towards insight and wisdom.
My reflection takes three forms: quiet time outdoors or in a serene indoor space, journal-writing, and inquisitive conversations with trusted others.
For example, when I encounter a situation where I have a judgmental impulse, I try to look at where the judgment comes from. Is it based on fact? Does it arise from ignorance, short-sightedness or fear? I might record my responses to these questions or discuss with another person.
Reflecting quietly on my judgmentalism helps me move towards emotional neutrality. This reduces the chances that I will say or do something unfair or stupid based on an erroneous belief.
Discipline #3: Generating a curious mindset
Before every coaching session, I like to consider my hunches about what is really going on with this person and the system they are a part of.
I then ask myself:
How might I check out these hunches in an open-minded manner?
What does the coachee think is really going on here?
What would I love to learn about this person? What fascinates me about the decisions they’ve made or the things they’ve accomplished?
I try to ground myself in a curious mindset. Genuine curiosity (as opposed to faking interest that isn’t there) helps me enter my coaching sessions with the aim of learning something new about the other.
Even if I’ve known a coachee for 20 years, I think to myself: “There’s a lot I don’t know about this person. I can always learn something new.”
Discipline #4: Bringing healthy suspicion
Healthy suspicion does not mean responding cynically or skeptically to everything a coachee says.
It means developing the ability to tell when something just doesn’t sound accurate or reasonable.
Here are some of the healthy suspicions I bring with me into every coaching session:
1. Just because the coachee believes it doesn’t mean it makes sense. And just because they disagree with
a statement doesn’t mean the statement is inaccurate.
2. Assumptions about other people often don’t get checked out. Part of my job is to question firmly-held
3. Blame is highly suspicious. When I hear it, I question whether the coachee has spent any time looking at
their own part in whatever problem they are bringing up.
4. Avoidance is often rationalized to make it sound appropriate. For example, the rationalization, “I can’t tell
my boss that; I could be fired,” suggests the speaker’s position is based on logic, when most of the time,
such a statement reveals irrational fear.
5. Leaders who use time as an excuse for not coaching are usually in an advanced state of self-kidding. I
would rather hear something more candid, e.g., “I don’t put a high value on coaching – I have more
Each coach bears responsibility for his or her own preparation strategies and disciplines.
As coaches, we can’t expect to consistently deliver high value without intention and preparation.