“A way of seeing people” – What coaching is…

We’ve looked in a previous post at some aspects of what coaching isn’t. Let’s start to look at what it is.

As I see it, John Whitmore had it about right when he said in an interview that coaching is:  “a way of seeing people.” *  It’s the implications of this short but deceptively simple phrase that I want to consider today.

The core of coaching     At the heart of coaching is the belief on the part of the coach, that individuals have within themselves the resources necessary for developing their expertise beyond their current level of competency. Read that sentence again slowly and really think about what it means in practical as well as philosophical terms.

We’re describing a “way of seeing” and a way of interacting between the individuals in coaching relationships, which have at their core infinite respect for the integrity, wisdom and ability of coachees, at least in relation to their own issues and affairs. Without this crucial attitude being in place, no genuine coaching can take place.

If the coach deep down entertains the belief that ‘the coach knows best’, or that anything other than the coachee’s own carefully considered and crafted solution is the ‘correct’ one in the coachee’s own particular circumstances (even if it’s to do nothing), then he or she might as well pack up and go home.

The coach’s magical role     That coachees have their own inner wisdom shouldn’t be taken to mean that the coach doesn’t have a crucial role, even a magical role. Rather than being an all-seeing ‘knower of all things’, the coach acts as a facilitator (or ‘catalyst’) in raising the awareness of coachees towards designing their own programmes to achieve self-generated goals. Alongside this, the coach facilitates or ‘catalyses’ the sense of responsibility and ownership in coachees that’s necessary for the achievement of those goals.

Think about it. The coach is the means by which that buried seam of gold within each coachee is revealed in its gleaming beauty, leading to the refining of hidden wisdom beyond anything the coachee previously held within his or her awareness. Believe it or not, the coach can sometimes be present at the birth of delicate and wonderful ideas, amazing personal transformations, and pathways towards dreams that were previously beyond reach.

The transformational coaching ‘wordview’ or ‘culture’     Coaching is flexible enough to deal with a whole range of short term practical issues by focusing coachees on finding their own solutions. Yet, if coaching skills are implemented as a style of interaction within groups and organisations, the result can be communities with a ‘worldview’ or ‘culture’ that helps individuals and teams take ‘ownership’ of strategy to improve performance and/or cope with change.

In enabling the elimination of internal and external obstacles to achieving goals amongst individuals and groups, coaching can unleash unparalleled cooperative team spirit which makes any outcome so much more than the sum of the parts.

If that all sounds pretty powerful, it’s because it is. There’s no getting away from the fact that at their best, coaching and a ‘coaching style of interaction’ can be transformational in individual and collective lives.

The expansion of the coachee’s vision     The coaching relationship is one of equals and experts. The coachee is an expert  –  in her or his own specific issue. The coach is also an expert  –  in facilitating the coachee’s journey towards retrieving knowledge to deal with that issue which she or he already possesses, but is unable readily to access.

Rather than contributing information to this process of discovery, the coach becomes a listening ear, an asker of incisive questions, a sounding board reflecting back for coachees the contents of their own minds, transformed into the lubrication that brings ‘enlightenment’.

Some experience this enlightenment as a ‘lightbulb moment’  –  that instant when everything comes into focus and whatever needs to be seen is seen with utter clarity. After such moments, nothing is ever the same again. With the help of a skilled coach, the ‘vision’ of the coachee is expanded beyond its normal limitations  –  expanded beyond what either coach or coachee could ever imagine.

So, when you think about coaching, remember how magical it can be.      As “a way of seeing people”  it can be transformative for both individuals and groups, providing tools to facilitate personal development, whilst also being the basis of an attitudinal framework which translates into an unparalleled cooperative, respectful worldview.

* John Whitmore is best known for his book  Coaching for Performance, which first appeared in 1992 and has gone through four revisions. The quoted comment was made by Whitmore during an interview with Jane Renton for a Case Study in her book Coaching and Mentoring: What they are and how to make the most of them (2009).

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