Coaching Case Study By Mary Holtschneider
(Healthcare Professionals Coach, UNITED STATES)
This case study describes a coaching relationship that I developed with Joanna, a newly licensed health care professional. We engaged in several coaching sessions together, which focused on career-oriented issues. After several sessions, we had one that focused on her challenges with meeting what she referred to as “strong men,” as she identified that she felt stronger than the men that she was meeting. Her desire, according to our coaching agreement, was to identify how to meet stronger men and hopefully find a marriage partner.
From my previous interactions with Joanna, I had found her to be an enthusiastic and highly driven professional. She had identified topics within her professional life that she wanted to learn more about and apply to her practice. One of these topics had to do with resilience and how health care professionals learn this important skill.
In retrospect, when we started the coaching session focused on her personal goal of how to attract “strong men,” I could have approached the session differently. We seemed to have successful sessions when they revolved around professional growth issues. However, we encountered challenges with personal growth issues.
After we reached a coaching agreement of how she could identify ways to meet strong men, Joanna proceeded to focus on very specific criteria that she had for what a strong man actually is. Her frame of reference was religious, and she was not open to looking for a strong man outside her fundamentalist faith. From her perspective, a strong man could only be from her fundamentalist faith, yet she stated that none of the men that she had met who belonged to this fundamentalist faith were indeed strong.
As a coach, I made observations about her comments. I asked powerful questions of her and challenged her to identify the characteristics of what makes someone a strong man. What I saw unfold was that she felt superior to all of the men that she had met, and she was perhaps blocking them from getting close to her. I did not share observations related to her projecting her own issues on others as she was adamant that she was not the problem. She even explicitly stated several times, “I am not the problem.”
When I shared observations about her possible blockages, Joanna vehemently argued that it was the men who were the problem, not her. She was not open to the possibility that she was the source of her problem and was unwilling to change herself.
This was a learning experience for me as a coach for several reasons. First, I found Joanna to be quite open to coaching observations when it came to matters related to professional issues. I had made a false assumption that she would be open to coaching observations when it came to matters related to personal issues as well, which was a mistake on my part. I had underestimated her readiness to being coached on her personal concerns.
Second, I could have better recognized the triggers in myself when she chose to only identify strong men as being from her fundamentalist religion. The fact that she was not open to engaging with “non-believer” men bothered me, though I did my best to stay out of judgment. In retrospect, I could have done a better job of remaining free of judgment, as I attempted to lead her down the path of being open to other men outside of the fundamentalist faith.
Third, our coaching agreement for this session was likely not an appropriate agreement. It would have been better for me to have helped Joanna focus on identifying goals for her self-growth, rather than identifying ways to find strong men. In retrospect, a better coaching agreement might have helped the coaching session progress in a more positive fashion.
The coaching session was challenging for me due to the triggers that I felt about Joanna’s fundamentalist religion, her apparent lack of insight into her personal issues, and my false assumptions that she was able to be coached on personal issues in the same manner that she responded to professional issues.
I learned a variety of things as a result of this session. First, I could have used some different powerful questions. One such question that I thought of later was, “What perspective could be serving you better?” I could have used perceptual positioning for her look at the situation from her point of view, the other’s point of view, and the detached observer point of view.
Second, I now know that I have personal triggers regarding Joanna’s fundamentalist faith and what I perceive as being problematic for not only her but others. This was a powerful lesson for me on the importance of remaining non-judgmental.
Third, I found that it was important to end the session with clarity and a sense of positivity. By the end of the session, Joanna and I agreed that it would be beneficial for her to reflect on her goals and to think about how she can look at her situation differently. We agreed to meet again for several weeks in the future.
As I continue to reflect on Joanna, this case study has prompted me to think about how there will be clients that I cannot fully help, even though I can help them gain success with some of their issues. Being honest with myself about my limitations will help me identify areas for improvement, and thus make me a better coach in the long run.