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What Coffee Taught Me About Coaching

Photo by Allie on Unsplash

I recently joined Grand Heron International.  My motivation was linked to wanting to “sharpen the saw” as Franklin Covey says, basically I wanted to keep learning the skills of coaching by joining a community of practice.

Two of my new colleagues, fellow coaches Gabriela (Gabi) Nitu and Maryse Matta, invited me to join their Coffee & Conversations space. “Is that a group coaching session?” I asked. No. “Is it an online webinar?” No, they answered again. “Well, what is it exactly?”. I ask a lot of questions as you can see…

In light of the pandemic, fellow coaches Gabi & Maryse felt that they had to do something to help. They were not trying to drum up coaching clients or promote themselves but were truly motivated to help others. As coaches, we are taught to “hold the space” for our coachees (clients). The logic is that our role is not to solve problems but to accompany coachees in their change journey. Trained in how to hold that space, Gabi & Maryse believed that, now more than ever, people simply need a space to go to but without a coaching agenda.

A Safe Space to Connect

I joined my first Coffee & Conversations as a guest coach last week.  I had mixed feelings because this was not a coaching session. It was a safe space to connect and share insights on how we are living the current situation.  That screamed vulnerability for me. You mean I have to share what I am feeling is what came to my mind.

The last year has taught me to stay open to possibilities, to get out of my comfort zone. So, at 8 am on a Friday morning, I joined the call.  As the conversation got going, Gabi took the time to explain who we were, what Grand Heron International is all about and the origin of the sessions. While we checked in on how everyone was doing, the conversation gravitated to a topic I myself have experienced, namely, what exactly is coaching? That was the question attendees seemed curious about.  Interestingly, when I onboard a new coachee, I spend quite a bit of time explaining what coaching is not. This got me thinking that it might be useful to demystify a few things about coaching.

What is coaching?

If you are like most people, the first image that comes to mind is a sports coach, that person who supports an athlete to achieve goals. The word in this sense can be traced back to 1830, to Cambridge, UK, where it was a slang word for “tutor”. Hence the root of teaching and training that we often associate with a sports coach.

Sir John Whitmore pioneered coaching in the workplace, including leadership and management training programmes. Sir John was also a leading figure in the creation of the International Coach Federation (ICF). The ICF is the primary coach accreditation body which upholds the standards of the coaching profession. ICF defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.

Now when most people read that, they associate the definition to making a “big” change to achieve the summit of their human potential. This can absolutely be the case. People may seek a coach for support on changing careers, losing weight, setting new goals or wanting to explore a new life goal like writing a book. This is often called developmental coaching and is usually a longer term (i.e. three months or longer) process.

However, there are many other goals which people set for themselves which are shorter term and for which they may benefit from support. These include navigating the onboarding into a new job or resolving a recent conflict with a new team member. These situations are best addressed with what we sometimes call on-demand coaching because they are often situational and need a solution quickly.

Coaching –» Action –» Potential

In both examples, what is common is a desire for an action plan. Action is the crux of the coaching conversation. The coaching process is forward-looking, intended to maximize an individual or a team’s potential. Potential is something not yet observable but waiting to surface. Coaches are trained in a methodology to help the coachee attain their potential (in the context of the topic they bring to coaching) however it is the coachee who owns the goal and the action plan.

Unlike therapy, which spends time in the past and seeks to understand the root of current behaviour, coaching is about exploring future possibilities to achieve a specific goal. A coaching partnership is guided by a coaching agreement. That agreement clarifies the ethics of coaching. It also clarifies that the coach is not a substitute for a therapist where one is warranted. A good coach will know when to pass the baton to a specialized resource so as to best serve the coachee. Sometimes a coachee will have a therapist and a coach in parallel, each one supporting them on different goals.

So coaching is not therapy, it is not marriage counseling, it is not financial planning and it is not management. This latter one is confusing I know because it is so overused in the corporate context. Managers are taught to “coach their teams to high performance”. Often times, people have enough of a hard time being a manager, let alone knowing how to be a coach in the purest sense of the word.

To start, a coach will listen, will be direct in their communication with you and will reflect back what they hear you say. They will help you explore possibilities for the topic that has taken you to seek coaching. They will also help you craft your action plan. They will hold you accountable. They will acknowledge your progress. I suppose the only way one will really know what coaching is would be to try it!

Thank-you Gabi and Maryse for inviting me to the Coffee & Conversations session. It helped me to connect with others while giving me the insight that coaching may need to be to demystified, one coaching conversation at a time.

Join us for Coffee & Conversation

Enza Cignarella, Grand Heron International Coach

Want to join the discussion in an open and judgement-free platform? Join hosts Maryse Matta and Gabriela Nitu along with guest GHI coaches for Coffee & Conversation every Friday from 8 to 9 am. To register click here.

Learn more about Enza Cignarella 

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