What if… coachees were coaches?

I’ve written before about how coaching is at bottom based on the fundamental insight that coachees are experts vis-à-vis their own issues – even though they may not yet be fully aware of the fact or able independently to access their ‘wisdom’.

The other day I found myself musing on what this might mean as far as the coaching relationship is concerned. We know that part of the coaching role is to facilitate coachees in accessing their ‘wisdom’. But what riches might coachees themselves be bringing to the table, that we coaches may not yet have acknowledged?

bejewelled mind image

I don’t have a definitive answer to this question. Here I’ll be telling you a little of my impressions and experiences. The riches coachees bring may be tangible, but I find that some of their most valuable input can be intangible – more to do with changing shades of perception. I’d welcome your own thoughts on this, so please feel free to comment below…

Not long ago I was coaching an individual who firmly believed she was scatty, undisciplined in her work, and very possibly unworthy of having attained the position in her organisation that she currently ‘enjoyed’. How could she deserve it, when she had an untidy desk, was unable to concentrate on one task for very long, and seemed incapable of fulfilling her obligations as far as producing work without set deadlines was concerned? There was much to-ing and fro-ing to uncover the range and context of her concerns from her own point of view, and together we teased out the achievable though challenging goal she decided to aim for in the coaching intervention.

Many coachees come to sessions without ever having been listened to with authentically deep interest. I agree with Nancy Kline that offering someone a genuinely listening ear is often the crucial added ingredient in their life that makes the most difference to their future. When someone feels heard they feel valued. When someone is heard without interruption, and is allowed to pause for as long as it takes to find the elusive words to articulate what they really want to say, it can be transformative.

I spent the sessions with my ‘scatty and undisciplined’ coachee listening. After lengthy monologues on her part I would reflect back when necessary as accurately as I could what she had told me. On one occasion I listened enraptured to her fluent explanation of how she was using her emerging self-designed new toolbox of approaches to her work. I watched and listened, and in my mind’s eye she transformed from the dullard she had previously described into a beautiful butterfly flitting from flower to flower.

luminous butterfly drawing

The beauty of her delicate thought processes and agility of multidimensional thinking astounded me. This was the woman who believed she was undisciplined, scatty and unable to concentrate on one task for very long. As she so expertly revealed her own particular method of working, I realised that she had been viewing herself according to the rule books of others. It was no wonder she had been unable to fly.

But there was more to it than that. By allowing herself to become her bright, nimble-minded self, my ‘scatty and undisciplined’ coachee had acted as my coach. Though unaware of her role as facilitator, she had embodied the almost hackneyed truism that we all have our own valid ways of working and being. How often is this said, yet how often do we truly act upon it? It’s too common to mouth platitudes, but to adhere in practice to the conviction that there’s really one ‘right way’ and no other.

Observing the transformation of my coachee, I came to understand the importance of accepting each other as we really are, and of allowing each other to develop in ways that are best for ourselves individually as well as severally. We all have our own modes of wisdom. And we all need to respect our particular ‘truth’, as well as the ‘truths’ of others.

Emerging from our coaching sessions with a grounded sense that she belonged in her profession, fully deserved the position she had achieved, and would produce the best work of which she was capable by doing it in her own way, my coachee taught me that just by being listened to an individual can coach his or her ‘self’. Treat people as experts in their own milieu, and experts they will come to acknowledge themselves to be.

We coaches facilitate the thought processes of others. And in doing so, we can be open to allowing those others to facilitate our own. I remain convinced that I learn more from my coachees than they learn from me. That’s how it should be.

Coachees really are coaches, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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