Courage in a Social Perspective
People do amazing things. They overcome unimaginable limitations. They thrive in the harshest of circumstances. What one person is capable of, many more have the capacity to do. Yet, we seldom do it alone and rarely just for ourselves. Arctic explorers, transatlantic voyagers, and pioneers of all kinds may have been physically alone throughout their ordeals, but it is unlikely that they were alone in their thoughts. We are inspired by others, we strive so that others may feel proud, and we may even put ourselves in harm’s way for the well-being of unknown others.
For better or worse, our lives are shaped by and directed toward inner and outer human connection. Our rich thought processes are replete with images and conversations, with feelings and the remembrances of touch. This is one of the deepest reasons why coaching is so effective. Coaching is about relationships; it is not about technically nailing a problem with precisely formulated solutions. Previously, clients may have bought books on their topic of concern. Perhaps they even looked online for potential solutions or bought special products. Whatever they came up with probably lacked the critical ingredients and resourcefulness to promote life-giving, sustainable progress. Ultimately, it is a human quality to want other people to hear our stories, to see us beyond the limited visions we hold of ourselves. We need someone who will open us to our full potential and lovingly hold us accountable because we have such difficulty being accountable to ourselves.
As long as we remain willing to understand the difficulties that people have in changing longstanding dysfunctional habits, we can keep our hearts open to helping them in processes of change. Doing so will not always be easy for us, and it will not be simple for them—though no doubt our efforts will smooth the path, lower the obstacles, and instill hope.
With our abundant knowledge about health, wellness, and fitness, we may sometimes focus too forcefully on the problem and not sufficiently on the beauty of the person sitting before us. What will inspire our capacity to be helpful is a determination to find the inner flame, the passion for life hidden in a corner of each client’s existence. We need to seek the client’s will to be more than her self-defined or externally defined limitations. Ultimately, we may not be able to change it all. Perfection is not a human reality. Striving is.
Your Life as a Coach
How you want your career to develop and how much emphasis you give to coaching will be informed partly by your desires and partly by your personal evolution. We cannot easily predict the future, although we may nonetheless plan for it. Once you embark on a course of learning and development associated with coaching, certain outcomes will become more likely. Understanding the skills and processes of coaching yields the power to change yourself for the better. As you learn to listen well to others, you will likely learn to listen to yourself better. As you express care and concern for the dilemmas that clients experience, you will most likely become more empathic to your own struggles and challenges. As you accompany them along the path of change, you will probably develop an intuitive understanding of how you can better manage your own passages and transitions.
Becoming an outstanding coach is about becoming the best of yourself. The course that you have chosen will nurture your growth and development as surely as it does that of your clients. Yet, this will not happen without clearly defined intentions and actions. Who are the clients you wish to serve? Where do you currently excel? What do you yet need to master?
We have traveled with you through all these pages and wish to journey just a bit further. As we reflect on the field of coaching, we acknowledge that it is still in its formative years. Organizations such as the ICF have been highly successful in bringing a credible professional face to an industry that was virtually unheard of a few decades ago. Even so, it doesn’t take much formal training to become certified as a coach. Is that reasonable? We believe that those who undertake basic training can be highly effective in many straightforward applications of a coaching methodology. As the complexity of client issues increases, however, coaches must have greater experience and training.
Coaching is not disconnected from other approaches to helping; in fact, as we have demonstrated, it depends on them for much of its skill base and understanding of human behavior. To be an effective coach with people who have challenging issues, you need to understand human behavior. Some of this information can be found in foundational psychology and human relations courses; other elements may be located in theories and practices related to communication, adult development, and behavior change. Beyond learning through formal studies, reflective practice is essential. This entails sincere self-reflection, engagement in peer supervision groups, and regular work with mentor coaches.
The learning process is ongoing in coaching; it is a gradual accumulation of understanding about the coaching field and about the intriguing and profound nature of human beings. Learning is never a search for the magic answer; rather, it is a gradual accumulation of understanding. In your personal learning journey, there may be times when you come across great teachers or inspired authors. You may be enthralled by their methodologies and become a true believer in a specific method of coaching. Or, you may sample a variety of coaching schools and find that each approach offers a new angle to apply to your work. Ultimately, you will discover your own approach to being the best coach you can be. It may not come easily or quickly, though hopefully you will be patient and not think that you have arrived long before you have. Each experience has something to offer, even when what you learn is something that you never plan to do again. Each course of study you undertake holds the capacity to stimulate understanding and deeper reflections about your clients. Your journey doesn’t stop with the mastery of external sources of knowledge. Self-knowledge also needs to be embraced. The more you know about your own ways, the more readily you can step out of your clients’ paths so they are able to follow their dreams rather than yours for them.
There are no shortcuts. Along the way, you may become intrigued with certain tools or techniques that seem to be essential to anyone who is a coach. You may, for instance, wonder about tests and questionnaires that would more rapidly reveal what you need to know about clients. As you develop your practice, you will come across many tools of this sort; we have even suggested a few earlier in the book. In the decades of our work in the helping professions and coaching in particular, we have used many tools and techniques. None has proven irreplaceable. As we review the great practitioners of the 20th and 21st centuries, we know that most of them had profoundly effective methods. Yet, in the cold light of research, what consistently shines through is not a particular technique but the human being who had the courage and humility to offer her services to another. The 11 ICF core competencies are about as encompassing a methodology as you will ever need in order to be an exceptional coach—and you will master them only with practice. When these are solidly in your grasp, it may be time to widen your horizons and expand your methods.
Curriculum for Coaches
Returning to the theme of your development as a coach, we would now like to consider this from a more pragmatic perspective. Undoubtedly, waves of change are forthcoming for the coaching industry. We believe the ICF will incrementally raise the bar for certification as a professional coach in the years to come, and at the same time, society will hold coaches increasingly accountable through licensing requirements and professional reviews.
Currently, there are few academic programs in university settings for coach education. This will change. We believe that graduate diplomas, certificates, and degrees will become more the norm for coach education in the future, though it seems unlikely that professional coaching programs will be developed at an undergraduate level. Why do we envision this future?
Having carefully read the previous chapters, you will concur that coaching conversations can be complex, and coaches who are confronted with clients’ normal challenges to change must have mastered concomitant levels of skill. If you take, by comparison, the preparatory training of other helpers, you will appreciate the discrepancies that currently exist between the training of a professional coach and that of other professionals.
In the field of social work, for example, people typically complete an undergraduate program leading to a BSW and then continue to pursue an MSW, which normally includes extensive practicum experiences under close supervision. In psychology, the requirements are steeper. For the most part, practicing psychologists throughout North America must hold a doctoral degree and undergo supervision both during and after graduation from their doctoral programs before they are allowed to practice on their own.
You might be thinking that these are more demanding professions, with clients who face more perplexing predicaments. However, you can never be certain who is requesting help on the phone or at your office door. More positively, we believe that you will want to be an exquisite coach who has the capacity to accompany your clients to their desired futures with grace and certainty. In service of this agenda, we have outlined an interrelated curriculum model for coach development (see Coach Development Curriculum). Some of this material was referenced earlier, but we want to take it to a more detailed level in this final section. Having trained professional coaches for years, we often recommend these pursuits for students as they are completing their intensive program with us. We invite you to think of the items in this curriculum within a time frame of 10 or more years rather than as objectives you need to accomplish right now.
This curriculum model for coach development is fully in service of the experience of coaching itself. Here, you are on your own, doing what you have prepared yourself to do. What previous and concurrent work nourishes your capacities?
Personal development is the first sphere of influence. Who you are as a person, how you have developed, what you have done to create greater sensitivity and awareness, and the degree to which you are on top of your own game all strongly influence how you show up in coaching relationships. Think of this, in part, as your coaching presence. You cannot embody the way of a coach until you fully inhabit your own being—with comfort, acceptance, wisdom, power, and fullness.
Beyond self-knowledge and personal development is the sphere of mentoring. Here, we envision that all effective coaches have ongoing relationships where they review their coaching experiences with competent others. In your early practice, it would be wise for you to find a mentor coach to consult on a regular basis. As you advance in years of practice, you may find additional sources of support among peers. Though your need for mentoring may taper after a few years, it will never disappear completely. Having an experienced mentor who knows you well is a component of sound professional practice. As you become a senior coach, you may choose to become a mentor yourself. Such a shift in your practice base does not signal the end of the need for public review of your work, however. Surrounding yourself with other seasoned coaches in biweekly or monthly peer mentoring sessions would be of immense benefit to your evolutionary growth.
The final sphere that contributes to your coaching competency is that of professional education and development. In this regard, learning will be lifelong and extensive. Depending on your present professional and educational background, you may have more or less work in front of you. With the changing realities of today’s world, all of us will remain on a steep learning curve to remain proficient in our work as coaches. Beyond courses and programs in coaching, you will want to enroll in many other forms of learning in the years to come. Given the multidisciplinary roots of coaching, continued learning may take many paths, though there are some fundamental areas that need to be integrated (see figure 12.1 for visual representation).
We have already indicated that your good intentions, capacity to listen, compassionate stance toward your clients, and knowledge gained through training will serve you well in the beginning. They will help you to know when you are in over your head so that you can graciously bow out of coaching encounters that are beyond your current capacities. In time you will learn more, your practice will expand, and your reputation will grow. Your career needs to be understood in a scale of decades. Can you imagine doing this work for the next 40 years? We hope your answer is an enthusiastic and unequivocal yes. If you are less certain, then taking things one step at a time is sensible. Allow your learning and experiences to inform you about where you want to go and whether this work is deeply in your heart.
It may well be that your purpose in reading this book is to gain another set of tools for the profession you are passionately pursuing right now. You may not want to be a full-time coach but rather to incorporate some coaching methods in your current approach. This is entirely valid and of considerable merit. We simply want you to have an option along with a map of what another future might look like over time. Coaching as a profession is here to stay. It will continue to grow and its applications will spread. At the beginning of the 20th century there may have been 100 or so professional psychologists; currently, there are likely more than 100,000 psychologists in the United States alone. Think about becoming part of the coaching profession at this point in its history and evolving along with it for the duration of your career. What a thrilling journey that could be!
There is little doubt that mastering the challenges of a coaching career will be more than adequately compensated. The rewards of serving others on their paths to fulfillment are inestimable. We encourage you to embrace all the tasks and personal work that are necessary to bring you to the peak of your capacities and personal evolution as a coach—and as a human.
No doubt you have worked hard to incorporate all the material presented throughout these pages. In doing so, you have learned some new things, reinforced others that were nascent within you, and perhaps talked to yourself about points of uncertainty. Whatever your path, the fact that you have completed this book will serve you well. You will have tackled practical skills. You will have ingested new models for understanding change and planning action. You will have gained perspective about the profession of coaching and how it applies to what you currently do. More centrally, we hope your efforts have opened your heart even wider to your clients and others. By realizing these results through your efforts with this book, you will have gained immeasurable potency for promoting health and wellness in this world. If you imagine your evolved capacities for personal and professional expression as having a kind of butterfly effect, what might be the ripples of your evolution throughout this planet Earth? What are the consequences of your growth on others’ capacities to be their very best and to live in the fullness of their dreams?