One question that I am often asked by those who are new to coaching, is ‘how can coaching help me?’ A response that seems to resonate with busy executives is to consider just three simple words:
These words derive from the coaching model developed by Pam Weiss, referenced below. Because coaching is a complex and sophisticated service this can be off-putting to new clients who just want to get a handle on the range of possibilities coaching can create. These three words provide that brilliantly.
Coaching provides the time, space and focus to help clients make better plans, work carefully through important decisions, and then support them as they start to accomplish their goals. The emphasis is on helping clients to structure their thinking, zero in on priorities and create disciplined follow-through.
A lot of coaching involves reflection, which involves assessing the lessons from an activity, event, or a work relationship. Learning in this way leads to new insights and ideas and helps the client to find new ways to tackle problems.
Learning can also be directed at helping the client develop greater clarity about their current situation. When life is a blur and everything is rushed, confusion can set in. Coaching helps clients take a step back from the day-to-day nature of work and form a better picture of where ‘they are at’ and this may be the most valuable learning they can get from coaching – once they have re-established where they are, their options become clearer, and they are able to make better choices.
There is a cross-over between learning and becoming the person or leader that we want to be. One example is that sometimes we need to ‘unlearn’ old habits that are no longer useful or are inhibiting our growth. Sometimes we have developed ways to deal with challenges that have served us well so far, but new situations and roles may call for something different. We can get in a rut, repeating old patterns of behaviour while expecting a different result – in this situation coaching is a valuable trigger to pause, re-set and move forward.
The third and deepest level of coaching is the ‘become’ level where the coaching is transformational.
A key element of this level is the process of self-discovery, as greater self-awareness is the springboard to transformation. This is important because coaching isn’t necessarily about changing the client - and some clients explicitly begin coaching by saying that they don’t want to change – but is instead about helping clients bring to the surface their innate strengths, their super-powers and resources and to help them make the most of what they already have to increase their effectiveness and resilience. This work is likely to be unstructured and free flowing. It can be fun, and it can also be painful as many clients suffer self-doubt, even though they know what they want.
At this point the coaching shifts to help the client to find the courage to align their thinking and behaviour with what they want and with their personal values. Coaching at the ‘become’ level can therefore involve more challenge from the coach; that is challenge to begin to experiment and challenge to really let go of old habits and thoughts. It’s important to say that this challenge doesn’t simply involve pressing the client to do more, but may for example, encourage them to pay more attention to their need for self-care. This kind of transformative coaching is not for everyone, and the skilled coach will ensure that their client drives the direction and depth that the coaching takes.
Three powerful words help to quickly get across the range of work that a coach and client can do together. Sometimes a coaching relationship naturally evolves through these different levels, but in other instances the focus is on working at a single level on a specific issue. All coaching begins with a contract and that is where the focus and intent of the coaching is defined, so that both parties are clear and comfortable with the work to follow.
Weiss, P. (2004). The Three Levels of Coaching. San Francisco, CA: An Appropriate Response. Webpage: www.newventureswest.com/three_levels.pdf.